Residents and municipal officials at annual Town Meeting and other venues across Maine this year can expect to hear about climate change from a group seeking their support for a carbon fee and dividend program they say will help the state weather the risks related to climate change.

Representatives of the nonprofit group Citizens’ Climate Lobby have been attending meetings to ask town residents and officials to back resolutions supporting a state and national proposal to charge fees on fossil fuel sales and distribute that money equally among residents. Some towns have backed the resolution, and some have not.

A resolution on Rome’s annual Town Meeting warrant Saturday asks if residents will authorize selectmen to call on state and federal elected representatives to enact fossil fuel pricing legislation to speed the transition to clean energy sources and protect Maine from increasing costs and environmental risks, such as floods and unprecedented wind storms, associated with climate change.

“To protect households, we support a carbon fee and dividend approach,” the resolution says, adding that energy producers would be charged for pollution associated with burning fossil fuels.

“Such a ‘carbon cash-back’ program decreases long-term fossil-fuel dependence throughout the economy, aids in the economic transition for energy consumers and keeps local energy dollars in Maine’s economy,” the resolution states. “Carbon cash-back has been championed by U.S. economists as the most effective and fair way to deliver rapid reductions in harmful carbon emissions at the scale required for our safety.”

If approved, the resolution would be signed by local officials and sent to Gov. Janet Mills, state legislators, Congress and U.S. President Joe Biden, ultimately to be voted on by Congress.

Peter Garrett, a Winslow resident and retired hydrogeologist who coordinates Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers in Maine, said Thursday that oil and natural gas companies that produce carbon fuels would pay the fee at the wellhead where the fuel comes out of the ground or at refineries. The fee would be based on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from burning the fuel.

“I’m a scientist at heart and I see the evidence for climate change and I think, ‘What kind of policy are we going to need to do something about it?'” Garrett said. “I’ve researched the various policies that people have thought about, and this one makes the most sense to me — this carbon dividend.”

Bonnie Sammons, coordinator of the Mid-Maine Chapter of the Climate Lobby, said the effort promotes the idea that paying for pollution encourages companies to do things differently and gets everyone to move toward using more renewable energy and less fossil fuels.

“We are, of course, hopeful that towns will vote in favor of the article,” Sammons said Friday. “Our goal in all of this is to generate local conversation about climate and to magnify local voices so that our members of Congress and other elected officials know we support action on climate and to encourage people to exercise their political will to get action on something they care about.”

Peter Garrett, 76, in the glow of passive solar heat that radiates through windows along the south side of his home Thursday in Winslow. The first floor of the home includes a greenhouse. Garrett uses a pair of solar panels on trackers that are adjacent to his home, his wife’s painting studio and a rental property along Eames Road in Winslow. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“So regardless of the outcome of the votes,” she said, “we are succeeding in getting productive conversations started about this crisis that affects us all. We intend to continue these conversations.”

Garrett and Sammons do not plan to present or discuss the resolution at any annual town meetings this year, but they have attended municipal meetings to offer information and answer questions about the effort.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby has what they call  “town champions” who attend and speak at meetings in towns and cities in which they live. In Canaan, for instance, Alan Sanborn and his wife, Sam, are “town champions” and will be collecting petition signatures at their annual Town Meeting on Saturday in an effort to get the resolution placed on the agenda for a meeting to be held later this year.

“We just happen to be team leaders, but we have wonderful people all over the place,” Sammons said. “They are the front line. They go to town meetings. They are the town champions. We think the world of them.”

SUPPORT AND OPPOSITION

Garrett recalled attending a Fairfield Town Council meeting a few years ago to present the climate change resolution. He spoke for two minutes, as that was the maximum time allowed. Aaron Rowden, the council chairman at the time, then spoke eloquently about the reasons why it was so important to support the resolution, and to Garrett’s surprise, the council voted unanimously to approve it.

But convincing officials of the importance of the effort is not always that easy. Last year, Garrett spoke to the Winslow Council about the resolution and while councilors voted in favor of taking action on climate change, it didn’t focus on a carbon fee and dividend, according to Garrett.

On Monday night, Garrett returned to the Winslow council and spoke for about 10 minutes on the resolution though he acknowledged he had spoken to all councilors ahead of time.

The council ended up voting 5-1 against supporting the resolution, with one councilor absent from the meeting.

The lone proponent, Winslow Council Chairman Ray Caron, said Thursday in a phone interview that he voted to support the resolution because something has to be done about climate change.

Peter Garrett, 76, has a pair of solar panels on trackers that are adjacent to his home, his wife’s painting studio and a rental property along Eames Road in Winslow. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“My feeling is that climate change is probably — except for COVID — the single biggest issue facing not only Winslow, not only Maine, but the country and the world,” Caron said. “There’s been a reluctance to take action with climate change and we’re getting to the drastic level, and this is one initiative that returns money back to the citizens. It just makes alternative energy a lot more attractive and more economically feasible.”

Caron cited as an example of the effects of climate change the shortened snowmobile season in Maine, which once was longer.

“We might not be able to reverse it, but we can prevent a lot of things from happening if we do take action,” he said.

Councilor Peter Drapeau, who voted against supporting the resolution, said Thursday that he has owned a trucking business 17 years and last year spent $120,000 on diesel fuel. Though he spoke with Garrett Monday morning for 1 1/2 hours and commends Garrett for a lot of community work he has done, he disagrees with his stance on carbon fee and dividend, he said.

“In my case, I’m not in favor of any increased taxation on fuel,” Drapeau said. “I’m not Republican, I’m independent. I’m a realist. When you’re going to attach a carbon use tax to the way I make my living, I’m not for it.”

Drapeau said it is not the fuel companies that should be targeted — the onus should be on those who build vehicles and engines.

“I told Peter, ‘Go after the manufacturers of equipment, don’t go after the fuel. It’s not the fuels’ fault.’ ”

Sammons said many towns besides Fairfield have supported the resolution, including Arrowsic, Cape Elizabeth, Kittery, Orono, Vinalhaven, and the cities of Portland and South Portland.

Sammons said she and Nancy Findlan made a presentation to selectpersons in Belgrade and are going to collect signatures to try to get a resolution on the town’s 2022 Town Meeting warrant.

“We’re working with officials and having a wonderful conversation, a cooperative dialogue,” she said.

Peter Garrett, 76, rides his bicycle between his home and a pair of solar panels on trackers that are adjacent to his home, his wife’s painting studio and a rental property along Eames Road in Winslow. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Sammons also attended an Oakland council meeting in January to discuss the resolution and plans to return to continue talks, she said.

Both she and Garrett emphasized that the effort is bipartisan and nonpolitical.

Those wanting to learn more about it may access the group’s website at www.carboncashback4me.org/home.

The website includes a map of communities that have signed on to the effort and those that are considering it.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby started 11 years ago in the U.S. and has been working to prompt Congress to pass the carbon fee and dividend plan for about that length of time, according to Garrett.

“At first, it was a tiny group of a dozen or two dozen and it’s grown and grown and grown and now it’s well over 100,000 in the U.S. and it’s gone international. There are chapters in every state, over 450 in the U.S., and there are over 2,000 active Maine chapter members.”

Garrett said he first heard about Citizens’ Climate Lobby in 2014. He traveled to Washington and met with members of Congress that year and brought the idea back to Maine. Now there are chapters in communities such as Waterville, Bangor, Belfast, Portland, Brunswick, Bath and Blue Hill.

“We meet with all members of Congress, either in person, or with their staff people who focus on energy issues,” he said.

Sammons noted that while everyone would receive dividends from the fees, the most vulnerable people will be helped the most in the transition to renewable energy. She thinks the effort will be successful and Congress will vote within a couple of years.

“I’d be amazed if it didn’t happen in the next few years,” she said.

Sammons and Garrett have spent years advocating for the environment while serving on boards of nonprofit organizations such as Sustain Mid-Maine. Sammons is a former science teacher who taught environmental science and adult education, and is a permaculture gardener, master gardener and wildlife tracker. She is working with three Colby College students on the climate change effort. Garrett has a passive solar home and works on efforts involving sustainability, including efficient home heating.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.