Oil dependence is an issue that can bring together people from all over the political spectrum, as it touches on national security, economics and the environment. So it’s not terribly surprising – although it is encouraging -- that the nation’s first oil-savings bill was passed in a state led by a Tea Party governor and a Republican-dominated legislature.
This summer, Maine passed a law requiring the state to reduce its overall oil consumption 30 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050, based on 2009 levels.
This law is ambitious, and the impetus behind it is clear. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, Maine is the fourth most oil-dependent state in the country. Mainers spend $15 million a day on oil, mostly for home heating and transportation. Oil is also the number one source of air pollution in the state, which has held on to its reputation for clean air despite the fact that every county, save one, received a C grade or lower from the American Lung Association’s 2010 State of the Air report.
The law tasks the Efficiency Maine Trust, a non-profit government entity responsible for energy efficiency programs across the state, to develop a plan for achieving the goals by 2012. The Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security will evaluate the state’s progress every five years.
Among the options the trust will consider to cut Maine’s oil use are shifting freight from trucks to marine and rail transport, using more electric vehicles, and offering rebates to consumers to retire old cars and trucks; beefing up public transportation through investment and incentives; weatherizing homes and offices and using more renewable sources of energy for home heating; and coordinating land use and transportation planning to encourage the growth of neighborhoods that are accessible by walking, biking and public transportation.
By making a firm commitment to reduce oil consumption, Maine can reduce air pollution, keep critical tax dollars at home, and help build a local clean energy economy. This transition isn’t going to happen overnight, but the law puts the state government firmly on the hook to answer residents’ concerns about clean air, high gas prices and big heating bills.
What’s more, Maine’s oil-savings law could be the start of a new trend. In the absence of a federal policy on oil savings, more states might look to the East to find ways to battle their own addictions. Environment America recently released a roadmap for states seeking to get off oil.
I look forward to more progress towards energy independence by state leaders, and hope they serve as models for our gridlocked federal government. Our families and our future deserve no less.