Maine has about eight months to come up with a definition of environmental justice that will guide new legislation in the state. That task comes on the direction of a law passed by the Maine Legislature.
With that law, Maine joins a growing group of states enacting similar legislation to reduce pollution and climate change impacts on vulnerable communities. But Maine and other states are finding that while it’s easy to agree environmental justice is important, it’s much harder to actually come up with a specific legal definition, much less to enact policies that make that definition meaningful.
Maine’s law originally would have directed the Public Utilities Commission to begin considering the state’s long-term emissions goals in its decisions, as well as to “address and mitigate disproportionate energy burdens on environmental justice populations, frontline communities” and other underserved utility customers. This would be in addition to its other responsibilities of ensuring energy reliability and affordability. But the equity piece was removed when stakeholders raised concerns about a lack of clear definitions or criteria to guide decisions, which could lead to lawsuits against the state.
Instead, the final law requires the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future to define “environmental justice,” “environmental justice populations,” “frontline communities” and other terms. Officials will also have to develop methods to incorporate equity into decision-making at the Public Utilities Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies. The legislature can then use the state’s recommendations to create new laws.