Rep. Blume: Maine can adapt to climate change
YORK, Maine — Every summer as a child, Lydia Blume would come to the Down East coast with her family – Islesford, Blue Hill, similar small coastal towns. More than 30 years ago, her parents moved to Hancock, and she still regularly spends time there. For as long as she can remember, she has been steeped in the life of the Maine coastline.
“I was exposed to a lot of aspects of Maine. I learned about lobstering early on, the working waterfront,” said Blume, who has served for the last five years as York’s state representative in Augusta. “I feel I have a connection with the coast of Maine, and an understanding of the marine economy here. I’m not a neophyte. We here in York are part of a very big state filled with complex issues.”
Among those issues, rising and warming seas from global warming are beginning to threaten a way of life in Maine, she said. Winter storms are causing infrastructure damage and causing economic headaches for towns, lobsters are moving northward to find cold water, ocean acidification is creating problems for aquatic species.
Blume, a member of both the Marine Resources and the Environment and Natural Resources committees, has built her legislative career around the coast. She calls her district coastal York, she formed the Legislature’s Coastal Caucus, which has attracted members on both sides of the aisle, and she has become a go-to legislator in Augusta around the issue of sea level rise and the ocean.
So impressed has House Speaker Sara Gideon been with Blume’s work that she appointed her to Gov. Janet Mills’ Climate Caucus, formed to tackle issues around climate change in Maine.
“Rep. Blume has been steadfast when it comes to her commitment to the issues surrounding the impact of climate change on our coastal economy. Her expertise will be a valuable asset to the council,” Gideon said.
A marine biology major in college who then went on to become a salesperson for an environmental equipment company, Blume said she comes to her work in Augusta with an inborn respect for and abiding interest in science.
“I like scientists, because they tell the truth,” she said. “That is important to me, especially in policy making. They are not playing a political game. Good science makes good public policy.”
Because of her work in the field, with scientists and engineers, she early on came to understand the implications of climate change. It is the challenge for our time, she said, and it has to be approached pragmatically.
“We need to look at this carefully and comprehensively and clear-eyed, and figure out what we can do in our state,” she said. “It’s also important to bring this issue up into the public consciousness, so people can accept it and not be afraid. If you don’t see hope, especially younger people, you’ll ignore it or you won’t see any reason to try.”
She said Maine is not densely built up like other coastal states, and there’s still “plenty of vegetation” along the shore, so policy initiatives implemented now will make an appreciable difference.
“We’re going to be given more time than other states. We have time to adapt,” she said. “I’m all about adaptation and resilience because of the importance of the coastal economy in the state of Maine. I want to raise awareness because the more people are aware, the more they’re thinking about it and coming up with innovations.”
For instance, York right now is going back and forth with the state Department of Environmental Protection over the design of a stepped seawall on Long Sands Beach. With increasingly intense winter storms, the town used this design in an effort to reduce wave intensity and oversplash onto the road and nearby seasonal homes. The state has concerns the seawall could contribute to beach erosion, which its bound by law to mitigate. Meanwhile, other communities facing similar issues are watching and waiting.
“I would like to make seawall design a challenge to engineering students. Let’s think outside of the box,” she said. “We have to protect properties and allow for the migration of sands at the same time. What’s the solution? That’s the kind of thing we have to start thinking about.”
Her very first bill when she entered the Legislature five years ago was titled “An Act to Help Municipalities Prepare for Sea Level Rise,” filed after York included a sea level rise chapter in its comprehensive plan. For the first two sessions, the bill was unable to overcome a veto by former Gov. Paul LePage. This session, it has “finally” been signed into law by Gov. Mills.
The bill makes sea level rise a state planning goal, which “may not sound like a lot, but it is,” Blume said. “Now we can write sea level rise into different laws in different areas. When the state does something from now on, it has to take sea level rise into consideration.”
As a result, municipalities will be able to tap state help when fashioning their own response to this issue.
“There are 145 towns on the coast. Now, state resources can be used to help them,” she said, adding that could pay off as towns look for financial help in dealing with adaptation measures. “If the state is doing its job by recognizing these are problems, that means any grant funding is going to be easier to get because it shows we are serious about this.”
She’s also been trying for nearly as long as she’s been in the Legislature to pass a Coastal Hazards and Risk bill, fashioned on similar legislation in New Hampshire to “really assess where we are, to study everything that is going on on the coast.”
That bill, along with a bill to create a science advisory and policy council on the impact of climate change on Maine’s marine species, were subsumed into Gov. Mill’s Climate Action law passed this past session. That law governs many aspects of climate policy, including sea level rise.
That law also sets up the Climate Council, which will advise the governor through her newly created Office of Innovation and the Future. Blume said she’s excited and honored to serve on the council.
“There’s so much good science going on in Maine,” she said. “The Climate Council will set up monitoring programs so we have more data, and we know what we’re doing well and what gaps we need to fill.”
Speaker Gideon said she is sure the leadership Blume has already shown in the Legislature will hold her in good stead on the council, just as it’s held her in good stead representing York.
“Rep. Blume always has her constituents and her community top of her mind,” she said. “Her leadership and tireless advocacy when it comes to the issue of sea level rise is a prime example. The impact of rising seas could be disastrous, and by acting now to address potential vulnerabilities and shore up infrastructure, she’s helping mitigate potential damage.”