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.

Megan Diver

Megan has worked in Maine politics for more than ten years and all of her professional career, having served in many roles for elected officials (including former Secretary of State Charlie Summers), in-house with the Maine Association of REALTORS®, legislative specialist at Pierce Atwood LLP providing lobbying services and support to Pierce Atwood’s government relations clients and most recently senior government relations specialist at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Megan currently is the Vice President at the Maine Energy Marketers Association, utilizing her vast knowledge and legislative experience at the State House to represent MEMA on policies relating to the Association and its members.