The Center for American Progress’ From the State House to the White House initiative describes how bold climate action by state, local, and tribal governments can be implemented at the federal level. In this video, state Sen. Chloe Maxmin (D-ME) and state Rep. Scott Cuddy (D-ME) discuss Maine’s clean energy progress, just transition, lessons learned for federal policymakers, and more
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Mike Williams is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work focuses on the nexus between creating and retaining high-quality, union jobs and fighting the climate crisis.
Mike Williams: So Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “A single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Today’s state, local, and tribal leaders are boldly taking on those risks and pursuing innovative legislation and executive action to shape the pro-climate, pro-labor, and pro-justice vision for the future. Today, we’ll be continuing our series called “A Single Courageous State: Climate, Jobs, and Justice,” with a focus on the great state of Maine. With us today is Sen. Chloe Maxmin and Rep. Scott Cuddy. Welcome to you both.
Rep. Scott Cuddy: Thank you.
Sen. Chloe Maxmin: Thank you.
Williams: So let’s dive right in it. Start with the lay of the land in Maine. Politically, the governor’s office and both sides of the Legislature are held by Democrats, but Maine has a long, well-known independent streak. Laws ramping up clean energy and energy efficiency passed, you both have taken leadership roles in moving some of the more ambitious versions. Controversy over infrastructure projects, so on and so forth, more and more. So for my first question, I’d love for both of you to answer, but let’s start with you, Sen. Maxmin. Maine has passed some very significant climate and clean energy policy since 2019, for example, by setting the state on a path to roughly 80 percent renewable electricity. What is one, or more, significant takeaway that you’ve learned about actually passing climate policy into law?
Sen. Maxmin: That’s a really good question, Mike. I think there are so many lessons that—no one wants to hear me ramble on for that long about everything that I’ve learned. I think, I’m being a bit of a negative Nelly. And I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that it is extremely hard to pass legislation, especially around climate change, that matches the breadth and depth of the crisis that we’re facing. Just the nature of policymaking when you have almost 200 legislators and a governor and her administration trying to make decisions, there is an incredible amount of compromise. And I think that’s one of the things that makes our democracy really great. And that’s not something that I was raised on to really value different opinions and find your common ground. But I think we’re running into a very profound challenge when it comes to the climate crisis of—we cannot compromise when it comes to the biggest issues of our time. And I think that’s a big challenge. There has been a lot of great climate policy passed, but I think it still fails to meet the mark that we need.
Williams: Rep. Cuddy?
Rep. Cuddy: When it comes to the idea of passing legislation and how to get it done, one of the focuses for me that came out of this past session is that there are two strings to the crisis that we’re in, and I’m trying to focus on both at the same time. And I think Sen. Maxmin has spoken really eloquently about the difficulty of meeting the moment that we’re in when it comes to actually protecting our everything from global climate change. But we have a second crisis that I try to work on at the same time, which is income inequality and wealth inequality. And as a union construction worker, it’s important to me that the jobs that we’re creating are similarly addressing that issue as well—bringing people into construction, maybe who haven’t worked in it before, who are historically excluded so that they can benefit from what has become, at least in the state of Maine, a serious boom in construction around renewables.
So the one thing that I really push for people to understand is that if you want good jobs legislation to pass at the same time as climate legislation, you really need to combine them at the start. Don’t pass one and then go for the other. They’re a problem that can be solved at the same time if we do them at the same time, or they are two problems that could be solved at the same time, and you need to address them both in a single piece of legislation. Don’t break it up into multiple pieces because you end up having different fights and different battles than you would if they were streamlined in one piece of legislation.
Williams: That’s great. Thank you, both. A quick follow-up: I’m hearing very loud and clear that the job isn’t done, that progress is hard. So now looking forward, what’s one big item that you think should be moved next?
Rep. Cuddy: Do you want to start with that one, Chloe, or do you want me to go?
Sen. Maxmin: You go for it, Scott.
Rep. Cuddy: There’s bunches. I mean, there’s bunches. So Maine has done an excellent job with increasing our renewable portfolio standard. The ISO New England grid right now is operating largely on fuels that don’t create carbon when you burn them, but we are hugely dependent on natural gas and fracking. And the way that we get our natural gas releases is so much methane, it causes so much environmental damage in the communities where the fracking is being done that we aren’t able to really say that we are remotely doing well on the carbon front or on the greenhouse gas run, I should say, because methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas. So much of it gets released during the process of bringing up natural gas. So we have a serious problem there that we are attempting to address with the creation of a lot of renewable energy, primarily solar, in the state of Maine right now—although offshore wind is coming and is going to be a really big piece, not just for the state of Maine, but for the East Coast in general.
So getting off of natural gas is a big piece. It’s something we need to do, and we need to start doing quickly. But that won’t come unless we have renewable energies to replace it and also storage capacity to address some of the lacks that you have with renewable energy. Wind power, the wind doesn’t always blow. Solar, the sun doesn’t always shine. There are problems that we know, we know how to solve them, but we have to get on it.
Sen. Maxmin: I echo everything that Rep. Cuddy said. I think, too, that—this idea has been going around my head a lot, it just, the fact is it requires a lot of money to do it. But something that originated in one of my bills from my first session, my Green New Deal bill, was creating a Just Transition Commission, which would have brought people together who are on the front lines of the climate crisis and on the front lines of our transition to a new energy economy, and created a commission that would oversee this massive energy transition and make sure that it was, in fact, just an equitable and not disproportionately harming rural folks, low-income folks, elderly folks, people of color in Maine. I think that analysis and that perspective is so desperately needed, but I don’t think we’re quite there in Maine to put the resources into that kind of entity, but it’s something that I dream of, for sure.
Williams: That’s fantastic. I really appreciate both of those responses. And Sen. Maxmin, that leads perfectly into my next question, so I thank you for that, too. So stakeholders—Sen. Maxmin, you mentioned the Maine Green New Deal, which you authored and helped shepherd its passage, which was supported and endorsed by the Maine AFL-CIO. The bill itself focused on, among other items, expanded use of skilled apprenticeships and energy projects. Rep. Cuddy, this past session, you introduced a bill, I think it was L.D. 1231, that would ensure that the jobs created by clean energy investments are good jobs. So why is it important to you both to focus on job quality and working with working people in the labor movement when developing climate and energy policy? I guess Rep. Cuddy, do you want to start? And Chloe, Sen. Maxmin, you get the last word?
Rep. Cuddy: Sure. I have a personal stake in it as a member of the IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers]. I’m an electrical construction worker. I’ve worked on solar farms. Our members have worked on wind farms, and we’ve also built, over our history, the fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants. So we have a connection to energy, and we understand the importance of not only building the energy sources that we need, but in making sure that working people who are doing this have a voice in it. My goal would be that all projects, then anywhere at any point in time, workers are empowered to have a voice in it. Whether that comes through unions or some other method, it’s important that the working person, the working woman, the working man has a say in the conditions they work under. So when I look at something that is a state-driven boom, because we passed L.D. 1711 in the 129th Legislature that really drove solar in the state of Maine. Developers came from all over because of what the state was doing.
So if we’re going to drive this boom, the state of Maine also has the right to say, if you want to take part in the boom, you need to ensure certain basic protections—prevailing wage as a minimum, as a floor, for what people are doing. I tried to piggyback a lot off of what Sen. Maxmin had done because you’ve done it so well with apprenticeships. Trying to ensure that if you are doing one of these projects, you are hiring people from the local area, and you’re hiring people from groups that are underrepresented in construction. I’m a white guy with graying hair—that’s super-common in construction. But people of color, women, even veterans are not well-represented in construction and ought to be. And this is a boom moment where we could do that. So it was very important for me to see that we’re going to take this moment we created and make something good for working people out of it.
Williams: Thank you, Rep. Cuddy. Sen. Maxmin?
Sen. Maxmin: Yeah. Amen to all that. When you asked that question, this quick story popped into my mind from when I was door knocking last year. And I had been at this guy’s house a few times but kept missing him. And he was like, “I’m so excited that you stopped by. I’m so excited to meet you. I just have one question: Do you support the fossil fuel industry? Do you support Big Oil?” And I was really confused. When those questions are asked, they’re usually a trap. The person does not support what they’re asking you. And so I was like, “What are you talking about? Are we talking about Exxon Mobil, Chevron? What’s going on?” And he told me that he works for Colby and Gale, which is our local fuel delivery company. And he knew that my background was in climate change and I was interested in the environment, and he was worried that the policies that I was interested in was going to put him out of a job and that he wasn’t going to be able to support his family.
And I think that is the crux of what we’re talking about. I think that the environmental movement has been historically so deeply divorced from the labor movement and the realities of working people. And so we’re talking about an energy transition that takes people’s jobs away, and that’s understandably really scary and feels very unjust and unfair to so many people. And I’ve found that to be especially true in rural communities where we depend upon fossil fuels for our jobs and to stay warm and get anywhere. So I think that it’s so vitally important that we are linking these two issues together and that we’re understanding the true complexities of this moment that we’re talking about. And if we don’t, we’re going to end up creating a world that is full of the same injustice that we’re fighting against right now.
Williams: Really well said. I’m going to pivot to maybe a hard topic: Congress and climate action at the national level. It’s a pretty simple question, but I don’t know if the answer would be hard. But what would it mean for you, I guess personally but also in your work in the Legislature, if Congress were to pass, actually pass, major infrastructure and climate investments, as they seem like they may? Sen. Maxmin, I’ll put you on the spot because you answered so well the last time.
Sen. Maxmin: The first thought that came to my mind was it would give me hope. I think I’m pretty hopeless on the climate front these days. And I think part of it is because we’d need federal action. It’s just, it’s part of the puzzle, and states can do a lot, but we can’t do everything. So that would be nice. But I think that it just signals to industry, to businesses, to states, to legislatures that this is happening, and there’s going to be the support to do it. And that signal is not there right now. So just makes everything more tricky.
Rep. Cuddy: Yeah. I think Sen. Maxmin really nailed it right there with the idea that when we signal to private industry that government—be it state, federal—is behind something, they respond. And they can respond in really creative and innovative ways that we may not see coming. And over the past previous four years, certainly there’s no reason for private industry to really get behind and try to do anything aside from an understanding of the depth of the crisis. Because they knew the federal government wasn’t going to be coming through in any way, shape, or form. And now that we have an infrastructure though, where this may really be taken serious. And we’ve already had some legislation moved at the federal level that has put some money into some of this.
It changes what we at the state level have to try to do. We’re trying to incentivize construction of particular, of solar, of wind in the state of Maine. We don’t have the significant resources needed in order to make that happen on a major scale; the federal government does. And when the federal government does it, it can take place in the places where it’s best. The Gulf of Maine—the wind in the Gulf of Maine is one of the best places in the world for it. So if that can be incentivized, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t have to mean that you’re going to be doing a ton of wind in a state where it just doesn’t work. I don’t know when it works in Nebraska at all. Big plains, might work great, might not—no hills. So they can do solar. They can do whatever works for them under a federal program that will make sense. But right now, at current, we don’t really have the federal government driving in the direction that we need to go. And without that, we’re not going to see private industry do what it can do really well because there isn’t a financial motive, and frankly, private industry thrives on financial motives. Even if they have the best motives at heart, if the financial motive isn’t there, they’re a business, that’s what they do. They exist to make money and at least not lose money. So if they don’t know the financial piece isn’t going to be there from the federal government, it’s not going to be the same response.
Williams: Thank you. Yeah, I sincerely appreciate both responses. And I sincerely appreciate you both taking the time and sincerely appreciate the leadership you both have shown. I want to just thank you for your time today. Sen. Maxmin, Rep. Cuddy, we look forward to hearing more about the progress in the state of Maine, the work that you’re doing. You told us about big items that you see forward: Just Transition Commission; the work you’re continuing to put forward, Rep. Cuddy, to inject labor standards; Sen. Maxmin on the Pine Tree Amendment, I didn’t get a chance to ask about it. There’s so much good work that we look forward to learning about and hopefully talking to you about further. So on towards building a pro-climate, pro-justice, pro-labor future. So thank you again. Sincerely appreciate it.