Here on the legislative side of things, it was quite a busy year! This would be our second year of legislative advocacy and we were quite engaged in public transportation, constitutionally protected environmental rights, clean energy production and other MYA-specific achievements. We are immensely grateful to our volunteers who supported our work- you all were certainly the foundation of everything we did. We are also grateful to our “partners in crime”- Environmental Priorities Coalition, MCAN, Sierra Club Maine, NRCM: the list goes on! Although I can not cover everything we did in 2023, here are some highlights I thought were worth sharing again:
MYA has become a key advocacy leader in the clean transportation movement. Personally, clean transportation is one of my favorite topics and extremely critical to reducing our emissions as a state. 54% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, while 78% of Mainers commute to work by driving a car alone. This is a serious problem, and although vehicle electrification is a component, it is not the entire solution. So we decided that public transportation will be key in making communities sustainable, transportation affordable, and emission reductions significant. Alongside several advocacy groups- such as GrowSmart, NRCM, Sierra Club and so forth- we built a robust and diverse coalition of advocates, businesses and transit operators that delivered meaningful results in moving statewide conversations, as well as significant legislative victories.
MYA successfully advocated for the passage of LD 1559, a critical public transit bill. Our top priority this year was LD 1559, a bill that held MaineDOT accountable to making public transportation an explicit priority of the agency, as well as strengthening stakeholders’ input in the statewide planning process. We accomplished this using our robust coalition to expose the flaws of a car-centric department of transportation, and emphasized to legislators the need for proper planning assistance from the state. We solicited dozens of individual testimonies from environmental groups, chambers of commerce, municipalities, transit operators, youth groups and many more. This bill received overwhelming support from the committee, and was signed by the Governor into law. LD 1559 amends the mission statement and other key pieces of statute in order to commit the agency to providing proper investment in public transportation services and alternatives to the car. It also amends the laws regarding the Public Transit Advisory Council, which guarantees more stakeholders a seat at the table (including us!!) and strengthens their power in the planning and policy recommendation process.
MYA played a key role in increasing state funding for public transportation. In our efforts to change MaineDOT to better support public transportation across the state, we also put in major effort in increasing state funding for existing operations. If public transit is going to be a viable solution to reducing our emissions, as well as make it sustainable and affordable, transit operators will need more funding… duh. As a result, we successfully advocated for a whopping $13.8 million for transit services through the Multimodal Transportation Fund. This means that agencies will be able to maintain current services, expand routes and increase frequencies. There is more to come on that front, so stay tuned!
MYA contributed to the passage of offshore wind legislation. We were proud to support our partners at the Environmental Priorities Coalition by coalescing around legislation to advance offshore wind. We know clean energy expansion is central to reducing the state’s emissions and achieving our goal of 80% by 2050. As such, a large coalition including environmental, business and labor groups successfully pushed forward LD 1895, a bill that paves the way for Maine’s offshore wind industry. This not only includes incentives to develop offshore wind, setting a goal of 3 megawatts by 2040, but also has standards for labor and workforce development.
MYA has advanced efforts to enshrine our constitutional right to a healthy environment. Although it is unfortunate that the Pine Tree Amendment did not pass the legislature this past session, we were proud of the momentum MYA mobilized among the grassroots. As the Pine Tree Amendment faced a public hearing, we were able to solicit dozens of individual testimony, as well as muster support from the environmental advocacy community and receive backing from the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a coalition of thirty-four environmental organizations. We presented several hours of testimony in-person and drowned out the opposing voices attempting to derail the good nature of this movement. Keeping this conversation going has been critical and warmly received by legislators and fellow advocates. Considering the state and national coverage we have received, MYA and a coalition of Pine Tree Amendment supporters are planning ambitious organizing goals for 2024!
Lastly, on a non-legislative note, we have begun the Legislative Team. We have done some incredible things in the legislature in 2023, but we also decided to take this year a step further and establish something that will give more people the opportunity to get directly involved in politics- the legislative team. We are now developing this space for young folks across the state to be educated and trained to get involved in Maine politics and make a meaningful impact on public policy. I am grateful for all the volunteers that have participated so far, and we have some bold plans for 2024. This space is relatively new, so I encourage all of you to join and make it a highlight on the 2024 recap!
- Cole Cochrane