During a gubernatorial debate Monday, Republican Paul LePage repeatedly attacked policies designed to reduce Maine’s dependency on fossil fuels and promote renewables while Democratic Gov. Janet Mills called for Maine to continue the transition to clean energy sources.
Monday’s debate between Mills and LePage, who was governor from 2011 to 2019, covered a variety of issues, including the economy, education, abortion rights, and the opioid epidemic.
However, the candidates also tangled on energy and climate change, and expressed vastly different stances on how to address what experts have called an “existential threat” to the future of humanity driven by fossil fuels.
For example, during the debate, LePage implied that he would support offshore drilling. When Mills said she hoped LePage’s energy plan would not include drilling off the coast of Maine, LePage replied: “I’ll go where the oil is.”
While in office, LePage supported calls for more offshore drilling by the Trump administration. In contrast, Mills pulled the state’s support for offshore drilling when she became governor.
Critics blasted LePage’s statement during the debate.
“Tonight, Paul LePage doubled down on his support for drilling for oil off the coast of Maine, an initiative that would put Maine’s entire lobster industry in peril,” the Maine Democratic Party said. “Our coastal industries consider offshore drilling an existential threat to their way of life, and LePage’s support for it shows he either does not understand or does not care about their future.”
LePage also repeatedly said Monday night that he’d move swiftly to repeal LD 99, a bill passed in 2021 and signed by Mills that directs the $17 billion Maine Public Employee Retirement System to divest $1.3 billion from fossil fuels within five years and directs the state treasurer to do the same with other state funds.
That bill made Maine the first state in the country to commit through legislation to divest from fossil fuel companies, and national and local environmental advocates hailed the move as an important step forward in the fight against climate change.
The conversation around energy and climate also touched on the prices of heating oil in Maine, which have risen sharply over the course of the year — a significant issue in a state that’s dependent on oil. The rise in prices are, in part, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mills cited a guide put out by her administration earlier this month to help people improve the energy efficiency of their homes and find heating assistance aid if needed. The governor has also provided direct heating oil assistance funds to tens of thousands of low-income Mainers.
In the short-term, Mills said Monday that she wants to work with the new legislature that will be seated in December to continue to help Mainers with heating oil prices. However, in the long-run, she said Maine must shift away from its dependency on fossil fuels.
“We’ve got to look for alternative heating sources and alternative energy sources,” Mills said. “We can’t be dependent on the big energy companies any longer. We’ve got to diversify our energy sources.”
That’s a policy already in place within the governor’s climate action plan, which provides a pathway for Maine to decrease greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 and for the state to be carbon neutral by 2045.
Mills also blasted LePage for not diversifying Maine’s energy sources while he was governor, pointing to the state’s continued reliance on fossil fuels as a legacy of his administration.
As Beacon previously reported, LePage repeatedly held back development of green energy sources like solar and wind power during his time in office — decisions that environmental advocates called disastrous.
During Monday’s forum, LePage didn’t sound like he had changed his stance on the issue. He said that in his lifetime Maine will “not see ourselves off oil.” And while he called for minimizing the use of oil and developing “technologies of the future,” he added that Maine must make sure such systems are “ready for prime time.”
Experts have found that wind and solar are reliable energy sources that can power a grid.
Moreover, LePage claimed Monday that energy prices are going up because of “net metering and solar.” Mills pushed back against that idea, pointing out that the high prices are related to the rising cost of fossil fuels.
LePage also claimed during the debate that, “solar is very very expensive” and argued the state should “repeal net metering” (a policy that allows people with solar panels to sell their excess energy back to the state’s electric grid) and repeal “expedited permitting for solar and wind.”
In fact, solar is increasingly affordable, with the price dropping steeply in Maine in recent years. Furthermore, the renewable energy industry has provided a growing number of jobs in the state.
LePage’s statements during Monday’s debate are nothing new and are part of a lengthy record of opposing policies to fight climate change. In fact, the former governor has questioned the existence and severity of the issue while at other times saying a warming climate might benefit Maine.
And along with standing in the way of renewable energy development in Maine, LePage hired an oil industry lobbyist to run the state’s Department of Environmental Protection while in office and vetoed a measure to allow the state to begin planning for climate change.
Photo: Former governor and GOP candidate Paul LePage during the gubernatorial debate on Monday, October 24, 2022. | Screenshot via WGME CBS 13