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Maine Gov. Janet Mills on the state's use of federal funding to combat climate change

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Wednesday marks one year since President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. A big chunk of the massive spending bill targets climate change. To understand how the federal money helps the green transition, we're looking at one program in Maine. Last month, thanks in part to new federal subsidies from the IRA, Maine announced an ambitious goal. It plans to install 175,000 heat pumps for homes and businesses by 2027. Governor Janet Mills of Maine joins us now. Welcome to the program.

JANET MILLS: Hi. Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: So what makes heat pumps so good that the state wants to install them?

MILLS: Well, heat pumps are affordable - heating and cooling appliances, actually. They are affordable, and they are efficient. Now, Maine has one of the oldest housing stocks in the country. And we also spend more money on heating oil for home heat than any other state per capita. Sixty percent of our homeowners in Maine spend money on oil and propane for heating appliances in their homes. We send about $4 billion out of state every year. There's no need to be filling the coffers of those companies that pollute the air. And it's so important to prioritize better heating and cooling appliances and other measures to fight climate change.

RASCOE: So what impact will the federal dollars that are coming in from the Inflation Reduction Act have on the state's climate goals?

MILLS: Well, a great deal of impact. The IRA is a big benefit to us in Maine. We're using, I think, $70 million of that and spreading that across the state to encourage people to find incentives and rebates for not only homes but schools and town halls. And thousands of homeowners now have heat pumps heating and cooling their homes and understanding that they're not contributing to climate change. They're helping us fight climate change by reducing harmful carbon emissions.

We've also spent some of that money in training up pump installers. Almost 600 people have been trained to install heat pumps by the community colleges, and we use some federal money for that as well. So we originally set a goal of installing 100,000 new heat pumps in Maine by 2025, and we did that two years early. So now I've set a new goal of 175,000 new heat pumps by the end of 2026.

RASCOE: I know that Maine's known for its independent-thinking politics, and even issues around energy efficiency and clean energy have become very polarized. Have you heard any pushback from constituents arguing that the state should not be in the business of, you know, helping people buy these appliances or promoting these sorts of appliances?

MILLS: I think we've got bipartisan support in the budget and bipartisan support for using Inflation Reduction Act monies towards heat pumps because it helps people, whether they're Democrats, Republicans, young or old, or Green Party or no party, you know? It helps everybody. People want to save money here. We're kind of frugal as a rule, and people hate spending all that money on oil and propane for winter heat. So I don't hear that kind of pushback on this particular program at all.

RASCOE: Do you know generally how much people will save by getting a heat pump versus using heating oil which - I know the price of that can skyrocket, go up and down, depending on the oil market.

MILLS: Well, it was really brought to our attention last year when oil and gas prices went zooming through the roof. And it's so volatile. So it's hard to predict how much people will save, but at least two or three hundred dollars a year. And in Maine, we have some pretty tough winters. And people hate to fill up those oil tanks. They just hate it. And this is a lot easier and more comfortable, more dependable, really.

RASCOE: You know, July was the planet's hottest month on record. We keep seeing more and more wildfires and heat waves and climate-related disasters. As a governor, do you feel a sense of urgency to spend more money on these programs targeting climate change, especially knowing that the way we power our homes, the way we fuel our cars - these are the main drivers of climate change?

MILLS: Absolutely. We're seeing that. And, you know, the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than about 99% of the remaining water bodies across the world. And we see it. The fishermen see it. The marine resources people see it. The hospitality industry sees it. So that's happening. And that's why, among other things, we formed partnerships with our towns and cities and tribal governments to see where they might sort of buck up their communities, where might they save money and help us fight climate change, whether it's riprap, whether it's building code issues, whether it's, you know, saving on water and energy here, there and everywhere. Every town is different. But we're looking at it and help - using this federal money, helping towns and cities become more resilient to climate change.

RASCOE: That's Maine Governor Janet Mills. Thank you so much for joining us.

MILLS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Lennon Sherburne