Interview with Chloe Maxmin, Youth Climate Leader and Maine Activist

BY ON September 20, 2016

Chloe MaxminSome people are quick to judge the millennial generation as selfie-obsessed and politically apathetic. But like all stereotypes, this deserves a serious reality check. At the ripe old age of 24, Chloe Maxmin is a seasoned climate activist and community leader.

Between a legislative sit-in, and her writing for the Nation, Chloe is so busy that I was lucky to catch up with her. In this interview, Chloe shares lessons and inspiration about how to fight climate change, protect public health in her home state, Maine, and advocate for a clean energy future.

Moms Clean Air Force: Whew! You’ve got quite an accomplished bio for a 24 year old! When did you discover that you could make a difference in local and national politics?

Chloe Maxmin: I can’t believe how long it’s been since this journey began! I don’t remember thinking I could make a difference. I just knew that I had to do something.

I grew up on a farm in Maine. I love my home and state and would do anything to protect it. When I was 12, I learned that Plum Creek, one of the largest real estate developers in the country, wanted to develop Maine’s North Woods. This is the largest tract of undeveloped woods east of the Mississippi. The development would ruin so much of what makes Maine special. I started to testify at public hearings and write “letters to the editor.”

In high school, I wanted to get all my friends involved too. But there was no environmental club. I started the Climate Action Club (CAC) to provide opportunities for people in my school and community to fight climate change. The CAC began with small projects (like recycling batteries and cartridges), and ultimately garnered enough funding and recognition to install solar panels on our school, distribute reusable bags throughout our town, and catalyze actions and conversations around climate change where before there were none.

My work in high school focused on individual behavior change. It wasn’t until I began college that my activism shifted towards systemic political work. I recognized that meaningful solutions to climate change hinged on politics. It’s up to the people to hold elected officials accountable and push for the action.

How did you become passionate about climate change?

I became a climate activist to protect what I love – my home. (Tweet this) The greatest threat to Maine and my family’s farm is climate change. That is why I act.

While I wasn’t explicitly talking about climate change, in my early focus to stop the development proposal, through that experience, I met organizers in Maine who devoted their lives to protecting the state from various threats, including climate change. Through those mentors, my parents, and the news, I learned about the climate crisis.

In a recent Nation piece, you discuss the political situation in Maine. Can you tell us more about that?

Maine is small state. We are the size of England but with only 1.3 million people. Maine ranks 38th in population density. Much of northern Maine is politically conservative. Our Governor Paul LePage, has brought Maine to the forefront of national politics because of his crude, racist and bigoted behavior. LePage won his election twice because of a third party spoiler vote. He does not represent the majority of Mainers.

Among Gov. LePage’s long list of alleged injustices, he has aggressively advocated for fracked gas infrastructure. During Gov. LePage’s first administration – the Maine legislature passed an energy omnibus bill that gave the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unprecedented power to regulate Maine’s energy. One key part of the bill tasked the PUC with exploring whether it would be beneficial for Mainers to fund massive private gas pipeline expansion. The main infrastructure proposal was for Spectra Energy’s Access Northeast project to expand capacity along Maine’s coast.

The ties between the natural gas industry and our government are deep, hidden behind layers of links, government websites, industry fact sheets, legislative documents, and media stories. The outcome is clear though: Maine’s government is willing to force Mainers to fund unnecessary dangerous fracked gas expansion.

Most things that happen in Maine stay in Maine. There has been almost no out-of-state coverage of the political and corporate abuses that are taking over our state. That is why I wrote an article about it for The Nation. The level of political corruption in Maine, I argue, represents a new era in which the behaviors of political elites violate the Declaration of Independence.

The climate movement is still very young in Maine. There are only a few organizations that are explicitly anti-natural gas. Most of the climate/environmental groups in the state are focused on conservation. Still, I heard from people in many different communities across the state that they appreciated the article. The only way we can confront corporate and political abuses in Maine is if we know about it and expose it.

What was your involvement in the recent protest at the Maine Public Utilities office?

I work with a youth group called Maine Students for Climate Justice (MSCJ). We organized a sit-in last week in the Maine PUC offices. It’s almost futile to target Gov. LePage, so we turned our attention to a hidden political actor: the PUC.

The PUC commissioned three reports about whether or not to tax Mainers for gas infrastructure. The reports said no, it’s not necessary. The PUC’s own staff also said that the tax was not necessary. But the PUC’s three commissioners – all of whom were appointed by Gov. LePage – overrode their staff’s recommendation. The three reports to approve the plan that would force Mainers to pay $96 a year for twenty years for gas pipelines. Existing gas infrastructure in Maine has already led to multiple pipeline leaks and explosions across the state.

This “pipeline tax” was proposed in other New England states as well. Luckily, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled against the validity of the pipeline tax. This means that it will be very hard for other states, including Maine, to force ratepayers to fund Spectra’s pipeline since most of the energy consumers are in Massachusetts. Still, the Maine PUC has the authority for force Mainers to fund massive LNG storage facilities across the state.

MSCJ is in the process of building a statewide campaign against fracked gas infrastructure, mobilizing students and adult allies to resist expansion and advocate for more ambitious renewable energy policies. As far as I know, our sit-in at the PUC office was the first direct action ever in Maine against fracked gas. We stayed in the office for 96 minutes – one minute for each dollar that the PUC wants every day Mainers to spend each year to fund pipeline expansion. We also sat to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux, who are fighting a pipeline battle that is changing the face of climate activism around the world.

Interesting fact: Spectra Energy was recently bought by Enbridge, a company that has a $1.5 billion stake in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

How can we engage youth in becoming climate voters – getting out and voting and organizing to fight climate change?

This is what my forthcoming book is about! I wrote my senior thesis at Harvard College about how the climate movement mobilizes political support. I interviewed thirty-nine climate movement leaders and discovered the “mobilization gap.” Most leaders identify the movement’s goals as political, but they don’t think the movement has the resources to achieve those goals. This is a shocking gap in strategy. Young people recognize the importance of politics but have not built the political power to influence the political process or hold leaders accountable. My new book is about how the climate movement can become an effective political force to fight for all that we love.

For more about Chloe READ: Lessons From A 24 Year-Old Activist.

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TOPICS: Activism, Climate Change, Fracking, Maine, Natural Gas, New England