Maine students take climate change to heart, to Congress

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SCARBOROUGH — High school senior Riley Beliveau and fellow classmates took a stand on Capitol Hill last week to say their future is at stake if immediate action isn’t taken to combat climate change. 

Beliveau was one of nine students from area schools who joined hundreds of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers from across the country in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13 to urge Congress to enact policies to reduce heat-trapping pollution. 

The gathering, Beliveau said, “reignited her passion” for environmental advocacy.

According to its website, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which was formed 11 years ago, is a national, nonpartisan advocacy organization working to “bring Republicans and Democrats together on market-based solutions to climate change.”

“We want to be very diversified, people of all backgrounds, all ages, all political affiliations,” Peter Monroe of the CCL’s Portland chapter said.

According to Monroe, the group is focused on lobbying Congress to adopt a Carbon Fee and Dividend plan, through which the government would charge a fee per ton of carbon omitted from all fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, used in the United States.

“It’s a progressive fee … (and it’s) supported across the political spectrum,” Monroe said. “… The minute they bring the product out of the ground or into the country, it gets the fee.”

The fee, which would be collected by the Treasury Department, would be $15 per ton of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions and would increase by a minimum of $10 per year. The money would be returned to taxpayers as monthly rebate checks.

The hope would be that this plan would “drive down carbon pollution because energy companies and Americans would choose cleaner, cheaper energy options.”

CCL focuses its lobbying efforts on Congress because “that’s where the bills start,” Monroe added.

Beliveau is also vice president of the Environmental Club of Scarborough and event coordinator of Maine Youth Environmental Association. She said she has found a simple motivation for her involvement with environmental advocacy groups: “Fear.”

For a long time, she said, she didn’t realize how pressing climate change actually is. The urgency needs to be known and shared, particularly by young people, Beliveau said.

“When (Congress) sees kids, they realize we’re scared for our future,” she said. “We’re showing up because we care and we’re angry and we need a change.”

Although she and many of her classmates will graduate from high school this year, Beliveau said she hopes they keep advocating for change and keep showing up on Capitol Hill.

“The first year we had three (students), this year there were nine, next year, we need 81 because we’re on that path,” she said. “I don’t think any of us plan to stop anytime soon.”

Students from Portland’s Casco Bay High School, Kennebunk High School and Cape Elizabeth High School also made the 12-hour drive to meet with more than 300 members of Congress on Nov. 13.

Helen Strout, a Cape Elizabeth sophomore at Cape Elizabeth High School, said this was her first trip to the Capitol and the first time she really “got involved.”

“(I’m) not old enough to vote yet, but I do have a voice and this trip was a way for me to (have it heard),” she said. 

Strout said when you live in a town as “clean and pristine” as Cape Elizabeth, it’s easy to fit back and ignore what’s threatening the world around you.

“I love it here, but that’s not enough for me,” she said. “… The environment should be people’s most pressing concern because without an environment, none of our other issues exist.”

Strout said she hopes to continue participating in events and trips with the MYEA and CCL and working with more like-minded environmentalists, regardless of political affiliation.

“It’s a bipartisan effort” she said. “We’re all going through this. It’s one world.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Students from southern Maine met with members of Congress Nov. 13 on behalf of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. From left, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, with Dyllan Hinton (Scarborough High School), Helen Strout ( Cape Elizabeth High School), Jackie DeQuattro (Scarborough), Riley Beliveau (Scarborough), Ruth Metcalfe (Kennebunk High School), Lucia Daranyi (Casco Bay High School), Skylar Soucie-Porter (Scarborough), Ryan O’Leary (Scarborough), and Hunter Lachance (Kennebunk). 

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