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Youth Action Group Led by Harvard Undergrad Sues Maine for Failure to Meet Climate Goals

Harvard Yard is located at 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA. A Harvard undergraduate is suing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection over a filure to meet climate pledges.
Harvard Yard is located at 2 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA. A Harvard undergraduate is suing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection over a filure to meet climate pledges. By Marina Qu
By Eman H. Abdurezak and Helina Tamiru, Crimson Staff Writers

Maine Youth Action — a political action organization co-founded by Cole A. Cochrane ’27 — alongside the Conservation Law Foundation and Sierra Club sued the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Board of Environmental Protection on Friday for a failure to meet its pledged climate goals.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in Maine state court, alleges that the state is not following promises made in a 2019 climate law. The law, championed by Governor Janet Mills, laid out a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030, achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

According to the groups that filed the lawsuit, Maine is not making enough progress to reach the goals cited in the climate plan.

“I don’t think there have been sufficient rules or legislation to be on that trajectory to those emission targets,” Cochrane said. “So it’s incredibly important to make sure we have some sort of substantial legislation in this space, but we haven’t.”

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to a request for comment.

In the suit, the groups noted the lack of progress on cutting transportation emissions, which account for 54 percent of Maine’s emissions, making it the state’s largest emission sector.

“They haven’t had any fundamental or transformative decisions that would significantly reduce our transportation emissions,” Cochrane said. “What I hope to see is a robust public transportation system that incentivize — at least the urban areas — to significantly reduce their transportation sector emissions.”

According to Cochrane, MYA hopes that in cutting Maine’s transportation emissions, it will also emphasize the importance of public transportation.

“We have so many transit operators that are ambitious and really want to take the initiative on expanding their bus services, but essentially promoting these transportation alternatives, they emit fewer per capita, per passenger mile, than cars,” Cochrane said.

Cochrane also highlighted other recent climate activism across the country.

During the summer of 2023, another group of young environmental activists sued Montana for impeding on their constitutional right to a healthy environment. The group was successful when the Montana District Judge ruled that the state had violated its constitution by approving coal mines, oil drilling, and new power plants.

Cochrane said the relationship between his group and the Montana activists is like a “positive feedback loop.”

“They can be inspired to spur up another action, but that action is unique and impactful enough to inspire me as well,” he said. “And I think in terms of litigation, I think they showed that there’s a path possible — a path forward.”

Cochrane also emphasized the importance of youth activists — particularly at Harvard — whom he called “critical stakeholders.”

“That’s what makes the issue of the climate crisis so unique,” Cochrane said. “We’re most acutely affected by the climate crisis, because the burden of the climate crisis is disproportionately on our generation, so I think that puts you front and center.”

—Staff writer Eman H. Abdurezak can be reached at eman.abdurezak@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Helina Tamiru can be reached helena.tamiru@thecrimson.com.

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