Senate candidate Sara Gideon stands in front of solar panels during a tour of ReVision Energy in South Portland in this Aug. 7, 2020, file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — House Speaker Sara Gideon unveiled a “climate agenda” on Friday largely hewing to state efforts from fellow Democrats as she looks to carve out differences on the issue with Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in their massive race.

The eight-point document would endorse a national goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, similar to a pledge made by Gov. Janet Mills in a September address to the United Nations that followed other climate action pushed through a Legislature that Democrats including Gideon seized control of after the 2018 election.

Gideon has maintained a slim lead on Collins in public polls released over the last few months in a race that has become a key cog in Democrats’ plan to win a Senate majority. She has gained the support of environmental groups that backed the fourth-term incumbent with a moderate climate record in a 2014 election that she won easily.

The Democratic nominee easily fended off two primary challengers in July without backing the Green New Deal, a litmus test for national progressives, telling the Bangor Daily News in September that she backed national extensions of policies put into place by Maine Democrats while saying in a stump speech that she backs “bold, immediate action” on the issue.

The document released on Friday around campaign swings to South Portland and East Boothbay largely stuck to that same line. It also outlines Gideon’s support for rejoining the Paris climate accords, establishing a Conservation Corps hearkening back to the New Deal era and supporting many of the positions of Attorney General Aaron Frey in lawsuits against the administration of President Donald Trump with a goal of increasing environmental protections.

“All of this is about our sense of selves, but it is also about survival,” she said after a tour of ReVision Energy, adding that the actions are crucial to preserving Maine industries. “And we simply have to combat climate change in the most aggressive way.”

Gideon stopped short of endorsing other measures, including a carbon tax that she co-sponsored last year in the Maine Legislature, nuclear expansions or a cap-and-trade program, saying she did not have enough information to support them. 

Collins has advertised against Gideon on the state carbon tax proposal that Mills opposed and went nowhere. A spokesperson for the senator did not respond to a request for comment, but her campaign tweeted that the tax constituted Gideon’s “real climate change plan.”

The Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than 99.9 percent of the world’s oceans in recent decades, according to a landmark federal study released in 2016. In a BDN reader survey conducted early this year, Democrats ranked climate and the environment as their top issue of importance while Republicans ranked it second lowest of 14 issues.

While many Republicans deny climate change science, Collins has long sounded the alarm over its predicted effects on Maine. In 2017, she warned in a floor speech that ignoring it would bring heavy costs for Americans. Two years later, she was the only Republican to sign onto a letter from fellow senators calling U.S. climate efforts “threadbare.”

Collins’ critics have hammered votes that they have said put larger climate goals at risk. After the League of Conservation Voters, which backed the Republican in 2008 and 2014 races, endorsed Gideon last year, it noted Collins’ votes for a Trump-backed tax overhaul that opened an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling and her landmark 2018 vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Two independents, former Green candidate and educator Lisa Savage of Solon and former third-party Florida gubernatorial candidate Max Linn, are also on the ballot. Savage supports an aggressive version of Green New Deal. Linn has highlighted his opposition to the proposed Central Maine Power corridor, which Gideon and Savage also oppose.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...