Students Demand Maine DEP Act To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

May 16, 2018

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection got an earful at a public hearing Tuesday from a group of high school and middle school students worried about climate change.

The public hearing was prompted by a petition the students filed earlier this year about what they say is the state's failure to do its part to protect them. They're are asking the DEP to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There are elements to the school day that can feel dire for any student. For 14-year-old Devyn Shaugnessy of Portland, it's when she learns about climate change in science class. She spoke about that as she waited for her turn to testify.

"It's kind of sounding like a death sentence. It sounds like this inevitable world ending because of what we're doing, and there's nothing that we as kids can do about it. It's up to the adults. And it's frustrating because the adults aren't doing anything about it, because they won't be here. It's our problem," she says.

Anna Siegel testifies Tuesday.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public

It's a problem that Shaugnessy and other students recently decided that they can do something about. Backed by local and international environmental groups, they're petitioning the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to take stronger action to battle climate change.

Specifically, the students want to reduce greenhouse gas emission by at least 8 percent a year. That would bring emissions in Maine to 75 percent below 2003 levels by 2035.

"I feel that action has to be taken before it's too late, and at this point, we really don't have much time left," says 14-year-old Lance Dinino of Kennebunk, who says he gets that sense of urgency from what he witnesses: stronger storms that are causing more environmental damage.

The state has taken action on climate change. Fifteen years ago, the state adopted a law that set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2010. A biennial report from the DEP earlier this year found that Maine met that target, and is on track to meet the next target of reducing emissions even further by 2020.

Ruth Metcalfe of Kennebunkport says that's not enough.

"They set their promise to us 15 years ago when they said they were going to change. I'm 15. I was born in 2003. So, in my lifetime it should have gotten better by now, but it hasn't, it's gotten worse," she says.

Some at the hearing think the proposals laid out in the petition go too far.

"We're speaking today on behalf of clients who are among the largest manufacturers in the state," says Lisa Gilbreath, an attorney at Pierce Atwood in Portland.

Gilbreath says these companies aren't opposed to reducing emissions further.

"Instead, we are opposed to these proposals because they're impractical," she says.

Gilbreth says the proposals would make Maine an outlier from other states, putting manufacturing companies at a competitive disadvantage. But 12-year-old Asfia Jawedi of Portland says she thinks Maine should be a leader on fighting climate change.

"Maybe if Maine could start getting less carbon emissions we could help the world see that they can do it and we could expand it so that maybe we can become carbon free," she says.

In Oregon, another group of kids has filed a lawsuit, arguing that the federal government's failure to take action on climate change is violating their constitutional rights. The Trump administration's efforts to dismiss the case have failed and it's now set for trial in October.

This story was originally published May 15, 2018 at 5:43 p.m. ET.