Rob leads Maine’s public policy advocacy and climate action strategy work. His team develops and advocates for laws and regulations that advance TNC’s conservation priorities at the state and federal level. He specializes in climate change mitigation solutions, building support for climate action through stakeholder engagement, community-based demonstration projects and in the halls of the State House.
Prior to joining TNC, Rob spent three years on the policy team for a state-based education advocacy organization, learning the ins and outs of policy advocacy strategies. He also worked in field organizing for two political campaigns.
Rob earned a Master of Public Policy degree from Georgetown University in 2013, where he studied both education policy and environmental policy. As a graduate student, he interned and later consulted for Third Way, a policy think tank. Rob also holds a BA in Philosophy from Brown University.
Getting Schooled on EVs
November 21, 2022
Imagine you’re back in your school days, riding the big yellow bus on a chilly winter morning. The diesel engine that’s been running for hours rumbles loudly, and the telltale odor of fuel permeates the cabin during your ride to school. Now, fast-forward to today: most kids in America are experiencing the exact same thing, riding the same school buses, breathing in the same diesel fumes as their bus emits greenhouse gases to and from school.
Fortunately, change is on the horizon. New technologies have made electric vehicles, or EVs, a practical solution to replace those old diesel guzzling buses. In fact, in the summer of 2021, Mount Desert Island High School (MDIHS) purchased and deployed the first electric school bus (ESB) in Maine. At The Nature Conservancy, we were excited to support this effort by funding a study designed to measure the effectiveness of this new climate-friendly technology.
Working with A Climate to Thrive, a Mount Desert Island non-profit, and the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation to perform the analysis, we wanted to understand if anticipated emissions reductions and operational savings would be realized from this project. We also sought to assess how the ESB performs in winter weather and a rural environment.
The study was recently completed and determined that the electric bus performed reliably, saved over 30,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions in less than a year and ranked three times as efficient as its diesel-engine counterpart. Students riding the bus and their drivers also enjoyed the fume-free and quiet ride. “Overall,” the report concluded, “the information collected during this study shows that this ESB is a good fit for MDIHS’s needs and that ESBs will likely be a beneficial technology for other rural Maine schools.”
So, what now? Fortunately, money for more ESB purchases is available under the federal EPA Clean School Bus Program, which includes $5 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year. This fall, 13 Maine school districts applied for and received funding, totaling $13.3 million, to purchase 34 electric school buses to add to their fleets.
Taking steps to reduce emissions by shifting to electric vehicles and updating our energy grid with well-sited clean energy are critical elements of Maine’s climate strategy. Replacing diesel school buses with electric—reducing emissions and improving the air our kids breath every day—is a great way to start.
Heading into a 2022 Maine Legislative Session Filled with Opportunities
By Rob Wood, director of government relations and climate policy, and Kaitlyn Bernard, natural resources policy advisor.
January 27, 2022
While the weather is getting colder, things are just heating up in Augusta. Maine’s 2022 legislative session is underway, and we’re excited about the many opportunities to support policies that benefit both people and nature. Here’s a brief rundown of our legislative priorities this year.
Climate change action
Maine is already seeing the effects of climate change. One example is sea-level rise, which poses a significant threat to vulnerable human and natural communities along our shoreline, including coastal wetlands that need space to retreat and reestablish. The northeast is also projected to see increased rainfall intensity in the coming decades, putting stress on natural and physical infrastructure in towns and cities statewide. But it’s not too late to act.
What we’re doing:
- Last year, the Legislature directed Maine state agencies to make recommendations to incorporate sea-level projections and other climate resilience considerations into the laws and rules they administer. We’ll be supporting a bill in the coming weeks to implement those recommendations—an important step toward making Maine more resilient.
- We are also backing LD 1902. Developed by teachers and students through the Nature-Based Education Consortium, this bill would enhance climate change education by funding partnerships between Maine’s schools and community organizations to support teacher professional development on climate science. Importantly, the bill would prioritize grants for schools and communities historically underserved by climate education.
- The Governor’s Forest Carbon Task Force, including TNC Maine forest program director Mark Berry, recently developed a suite of recommendations to incentivize carbon sequestration in Maine’s forests while maintaining overall timber harvest levels. We will be looking for ways to support enacting the group’s recommendations in legislation this year.
- A stakeholder group developed recommendations to support responsible siting of solar energy facilities. While this effort focused on balancing solar development and agricultural production, many of the recommended policy levers apply to forestland and other natural resources as well. TNC Maine will be working with legislators and the Mills Administration to advocate for rapid deployment of well-sited clean energy through the adoption of these and other measures in the coming months.
Healthy lands and waters
Ensuring the health and sustainability of Maine’s lands and waters has always been central to our mission. The many challenges facing our natural world require a variety of policy approaches, and there are a number of ways we are working to protect nature this session.
What we’re doing:
- TNC believes that supporting the strengthened voices, choices, and actions of Wabanaki People in conservation and natural resource management is critical for a future of healthy lands, waters, and communities. We support changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act in LD 1626, an important step toward ensuring tribes in Maine receive similar rights, privileges, powers, and immunities as other federally recognized tribes within the United States. TNC also supports LD 1907, an effort to establish a “Commission To Review State-owned Lands and Waterways” to identify which areas have sacred, traditional, or other significance to Wabanaki Tribes.
- In 2000, TNC Maine was a critical partner in the creation of Maine’s remarkable ecological reserve system—areas set aside under the management of the Bureau of Parks and Lands for natural processes to take hold and provide havens for wildlife, study, and recreation. However, the original statute governing these lands set caps on the total acreage that the Bureau could designate as ecological reserves. LD 736 aims to adjust the statutory goals around ecological reserves to balance flexibility to grow the system with BPL’s timber management needs. This change would make more natural forestland available for species on the move due to the changing climate and help the state protect a variety of habitat types. TNC testified in support of this bill along with many conservation partners.
- We recently commented on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection 2021 Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards. This agency process leads to recommendations for river and stream reclassification, an essential tool for adjusting the State's water quality management goals to reflect improving conditions in the water and for protecting against water quality degradation. We believe all of the waterways recommended by the Board of Environmental Protection should indeed be upgraded, including but not limited to sections of the West Branch Penobscot River, Sandy River, Nahmakanta Stream and its tributaries, and Southwest Branch St. John River. The bill to codify these water reclassification upgrades has not yet been printed but we expect to testify in support.
As we’re pursuing a world where both people and nature thrive, we must recognize that historically marginalized communities across the U.S. have borne a disproportionate share of the nation’s pollution and environmental degradation, while seeing fewer of the benefits of investments in environmental protection. Environmental justice requires taking proactive steps to address these inequities.
What we’re doing:
- Based on a law passed last session , the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future is developing recommendations for incorporating equity considerations in decision making at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and other state agencies. These agencies undertake decision-making processes regarding the siting of industrial infrastructure, for example, in which the inclusion of equity considerations can facilitate more just outcomes. Lawmakers will consider enacting legislation this session based on the outcomes of this process, and we’ll be supporting this effort.
- Another bill currently being deliberated, LD 1639, would require that the siting or expansion of any waste facility in Maine must be “not inconsistent with ensuring environmental justice for the community in which the facility or expansion is proposed.” This requirement is important not only in the context of solid waste, but for any facility that discharges pollution into the surrounding environment. We will be working on this important bill as well.
There’s a lot to do in the coming months, and we’ll be working hard with legislators to help people and nature in Maine. Please join us by contacting your state representatives to let them know what’s important to you. Your voice matters, and nature benefits when you speak up!
Breathing Room: Considering a New Rule to Reduce Emissions in Maine
November 10, 2021
The Maine Climate Council is an assembly of scientists, industry leaders, bipartisan local and state officials, and engaged citizens working to address the effects of climate change on our state. The Nature Conservancy in Maine’s state director, Kate Dempsey, is an active member of the Council and several TNC staff members serve on a broad range of working groups.
I have the honor of collaborating with partners as a member and co-chair of the Transportation Working Group. In Maine, as across the U.S., transportation is a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change, accounting for 54% of Maine’s carbon dioxide emissions.
Accelerating Maine’s transition to electric vehicles is a critical step to reduce those emissions and a key strategy identified by the Climate Action Plan adopted by the Climate Council. And, because medium- and heavy-duty vehicles make up more than one-quarter of transportation sector emissions, one of the three recommendations for accelerating the transition to electric vehicles is to, “By 2022, create policies, incentives, and pilot programs to encourage the adoption of electric, hybrid, and alternative-fuel medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, public transportation, school buses, and ferries.”
To help address this need, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed a new rule, Chapter 128 or the Advanced Clean Trucks Program, which would adopt California’s Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) regulation to encourage the sale of electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by requiring manufacturers to increase the percentage of zero-emission truck sales in Maine every year through 2035. The proposed regulation will accelerate Maine’s transition to vehicles which have no tailpipe emissions and will reduce both Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions and its dependence on fossil fuels.
We must support the transition to zero-emissions vehicle technology in this sector—in addition to the light-duty (passenger vehicle) sector—if we’re going to have any chance to meet Maine’s statutory greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements of 45% from 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. As noted by the MDEP, the rule is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 12% by 2050.
The ACT rule is also likely to benefit the health of Mainers. A recent study found that diesel-fueled trucks contribute up to half of an urban area’s nitrogen dioxide pollution, despite making up only 5% of total traffic. According to the EPA, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter can cause asthma and other harmful health effects. MDEP’s modeling shows that by 2050, the ACT rule will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 13% and particulate emissions by 10%. This reduction will benefit those living close to highways and roads, who have been disproportionately burdened by air pollution over time. It will also benefit K-12 students across the state, as the ACT rule will require increasing sales of zero-emission school buses.
It’s important to note that the DEP is proposing to adopt a rule that has been vetted by regulators in other states. The rule is already in place in California, and several other states are in the process of adoption, include Oregon, Washington, New Jersey, and New York. This rule also builds on the light-duty zero-emissions rule (Chapter 127) that Maine has had on the books for many years.
At TNC, we believe that the DEP’s proposed Chapter 128 rule will further the goals of the statewide Climate Action Plan and that the ACT rule will be an important policy tool to encourage the adoption of electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Policies like this make sense and need to be adopted—we must take action now to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, and give future generations a little more breathing room.
Maine’s First Electric School Bus Comes to Mount Desert Island
October 20, 2021
Did you know that the transportation sector accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Maine? And within that, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles account for close to one-third of the state’s transportation-related GHG emissions. These larger vehicles are also a source of other air pollutants and particulates that affect human health.
That’s why A Climate to Thrive, a nonprofit organization focused on energy independence on Mount Desert Island, worked with Mount Desert Island High School to help the school purchase an electric school bus -- the first in Maine! This $350,000 vehicle was partly paid for with funds from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Civil Settlement. The bus can travel two 100-mile routes in a day and still have 25% battery power remaining and will save the school about $5,000 per year in fuel and maintenance costs.
The Nature Conservancy in Maine is partnering with A Climate to Thrive to support a one-year evaluation and case study of the school bus's performance. Conducted by Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, the report will be published and made available to school districts across the state to inform and support other districts that are interested in purchasing or leasing electric school buses.
TNC in Maine's funding for the evaluation and case study supports Maine's transition to cleaner vehicles, which benefit the climate and public health. We’re also advocating for clean transportation policies at the state and federal level to encourage the transition to electric vehicles, bolster public transportation options, and reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled—all outlined in Maine’s Climate Action Plan.
Climate change isn’t a distant threat—it is happening now. The past decade has been hotter than any other time in recorded history. We have experienced more extreme weather and natural disasters, chronic drought, and economic instability. And while there is great urgency, big change begins with the first step…or the first electric school bus in Maine.
2021 Legislative Session Concludes with Big Investments in Nature and Climate
With the first regular session of Maine’s 130th Legislature officially on the books, TNC is taking stock of an historic investment in nature and the climate by state policymakers.
July 22, 2021
In a major win for Maine’s forests, farms and working waterfronts, the state budget—passed with bipartisan supermajorities and signed into law by Governor Mills—allocates $40 million to replenish the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) program. This represents the first new investment in LMF in nearly a decade and the largest investment in more than 20 years. Since its inception in 1987, LMF has helped protect more than 600,000 acres of conservation and recreation land for wildlife and people. The funds made available through 2025 will build on LMF’s legacy and ensure public access to some of Maine’s most special places for generations to come. The budget also makes statutory changes to the program to make lands “that help the State's natural ecosystems, wildlife and natural resource-based economies adapt to a changing climate” a priority for funding.
In another important win after several years of advocacy by a range of stakeholders including TNC, the Legislature allocated funding to establish an eelgrass and saltmarsh mapping program at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This program will support nearshore conservation projects based in sound science in the years ahead. The budget also makes new investments in municipal climate resilience and emissions reduction projects ($4.75 million); offshore wind research ($3 million); and forest carbon mapping ($0.4 million).
This year also saw an unprecedented opportunity to put federal dollars to work toward economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We applaud Governor Mills and the Legislature for passing a spending plan that reflects the critical role nature plays in Maine’s economy. For example, the plan includes $3 million for municipal culvert upgrades at road stream crossings to improve fish passage and enhance resilience against severe weather events. This program, administered by the DEP and first funded in 2012, has helped restore 185 miles of stream habitat for native and sea-run fish to date. Other essential investments in the spending package include:
- $50 million for state parks maintenance
- $20 million for infrastructure adaptation
- $7 million for habitat restoration and connectivity
- $50 million for energy efficiency
- $8 million for electric vehicle charging stations
- $8 million for clean energy workforce and innovation support
- $5 million for rural transit pilots
Beyond the budget, TNC is pleased that two new laws passed this session aimed at strengthening the voice of indigenous communities in natural resources policymaking. These laws establish permanent appointments of a member of the Wabanaki Tribes to the Marine Resources Advisory Council and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council.
Important progress on clean energy, climate resilience and natural climate solutions
The past six months have also seen the Legislature and the Mills Administration build on the climate policy achievements of 2019 and the recent publication of Maine’s new four-year Climate Action Plan.
Governor Mills signed into law two bills advancing offshore wind research in the Gulf of Maine. Together these laws require the state to approve a long-term contract for a floating offshore wind research array in federal waters (see TNC’s statement on the proposed research array); prohibit offshore wind arrays in state waters, where the majority of lobster fishing takes place; and establish an offshore wind research consortium that will research strategies to avoid and minimize impacts on ecosystems and marine resource users.
The Legislature also passed, and Gov. Mills signed, legislation recommended by TNC’s grid modernization report to incorporate the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets into the powers and duties of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). This law also requires the state to develop recommendations for incorporating equity and environmental justice into the decision-making framework of the PUC, the DEP and other state agencies.
Additionally, Gov. Mills signed into law a bill developed and shepherded by TNC and partners that will enable the establishment of a commercial property assessed clean energy (C-PACE) program in Maine. C-PACE is a tool available in many states to finance clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades in the commercial and industrial sector, which accounts for roughly one-fifth of Maine’s CO2 emissions. This bill originated with a clean energy finance report published by TNC and Coastal Enterprises, Inc. in 2019.
This session saw major strides on climate change resilience policy as well. Gov. Mills proposed, and the Legislature enacted, a resolve directing state agencies to make recommendations to incorporate consideration of 1.5 feet of sea-level rise by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100 into the administration of their laws and rules, and to recommend any changes necessary to update Maine’s land-use laws, tools, and practices to emphasize climate resilience.
The role of nature in addressing climate change was advanced through the passage of a law requiring the creation of a Maine Healthy Soils Program and a resolve directing state agencies to recommend policies and programs to promote and incentivize carbon sequestration on natural and working lands. The Governor also established by executive order a Forest Carbon Task Force, on which TNC serves, to recommend policies and programs to incentivize and support carbon storage on Maine’s small woodlots (less than 10,000 acres in size).
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Other important progress this session included:
- A law phasing out most uses of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas.
- A law enacting recommendations of the 2019 Maine Energy Storage Commission (on which TNC served) that will support clean energy and help avoid unnecessary electric grid infrastructure.
- A law creating the framework for the establishment of a green bank in Maine, with a focus on equitable clean energy investments (additional funding is still needed to seed the bank).
- A law establishing more stringent appliance energy and water standards.
- A resolve directing a study that will form the basis for the establishment of a Maine Climate Corps.
- A law creating a stakeholder group to recommend solar energy incentive programs to support solar arrays that minimize environmental impacts and that serve low- and moderate-income customers, and to recommend improvements to Maine’s electric grid planning process (recommended by TNC’s grid modernization report).
- A resolve to convene a working group to consider ways to encourage smart solar siting (TNC is serving as a technical advisor on this working group).
There is still much more to do. The Maine Legislature will meet again in 2022, and TNC’s priorities will include:
- Supporting legislation to recognize the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki Tribes of Maine. Read more about our advocacy for this tribal sovereignty bill.
- Implementing recommendations from the Governor’s Forest Carbon Task Force.
- Strengthening oversight of Maine’s aging dams.
- Helping to advance smart renewable energy siting.
We’ll be back soon with more updates!