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Climate Monitor

A weekly roundup of Maine's most urgent environmental and energy-related news from The Maine Monitor.

November 18, 2022

The Dragon cement plant in Thomaston is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the state, according to satellite data. (Credit: Dragon Products)

Scouting Maine's top greenhouse gas emitters by satellite

By Annie Ropeik


New data from the nonprofit Climate TRACE is shedding new light on Maine and the world's largest, and hardest to quantify, sources of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Today we're taking a look at these numbers to get a sense of how Maine's biggest emitters stack up in the global context.

The New York Times describes Climate TRACE as a "coalition of environmental groups, technology companies and academic scientists," with funding sources including Al Gore and Google. "Climate TRACE says it can produce emissions estimates that are more up-to-date than existing ones, and that rely less on information reported by governments about their own countries’ emissions," the NYT wrote. "It does this largely by mining satellite imagery and other data to get a more precise measure of individual facilities’ production activity, then estimating their emissions."

The data, which experts emphasize is not yet peer-reviewed, was recently updated to cover 2021. It now spans nearly 80,000 direct and indirect emissions sources — not just power plants and drilling sites, but factories, landfills, farmland and more.

The caveat, before we explore the top emissions sources listed for Maine, is that this data is not yet comprehensive. For example, Climate TRACE's map does not show any of Maine's fossil fuel-burning power plants, which we know from federal data are major sources of emissions. According to the group's methodology files, their data is still a patchwork — it may only list the top 500 emitters for some sectors, or only facilities with certain kinds of available data. I pulled federal data on Maine power plants for comparison purposes, and threw it together with Climate TRACE in a spreadsheet you can explore.

Now, the global context: Climate TRACE shows the top source of emissions in the world as the Permian Basin in Texas, home to thousands of oil and gas drilling operations that are seeing record productivity this year. Other oil and gas fields in Russia, Iran, the U.S. and China cover the top 14 emitters in the 2021 data. Next on the list, at 15th in the world, is a steel plant in China.

Zooming in, we see the biggest emissions source in New England — which doesn't produce its own fossil fuels, but relies heavily on importing them for heating, transportation and electricity — is Boston Logan International Airport, which caused nearly 830,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions in 2021. (CO2e, as it's known, is a way of normalizing and adding up the warming effects of different greenhouse gases.) Logan ranks 3,752th out of the world's emissions sources — between a crop-growing area in China, and a refinery in Belarus.

The city of Boston itself doesn't crack the top 1,000. The data shows Boston's 2021 emissions were comparable to those of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (reportedly the second-busiest in the world as of 2021), or Exxon's Beaumont petrochemical refinery in Texas.

With that in mind, let's go way down the list to the emissions sources for Maine. The biggest emitter listed is Casella's Pinetree Landfill in Hampden, ranked 7,510th globally, between the Adelaide, Australia airport and a copper mine in Peru. Climate TRACE says Pinetree emitted more than 260,000 tons of greenhouse gases in 2021. Landfills put out carbon and methane as the trash inside them — much of it plastic, which is made of fossil fuels — decomposes.

The state's many other, smaller landfills round out the list. For example, Waste Management's Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock is 4th among emitters listed in Maine and 10,670th globally, akin in its emissions to a large cargo or cruise ship. Climate TRACE says Casella's Juniper Ridge Landfill in Alton (the 15,568th-largest emitter listed globally) emits a little less than a coal mine in Indonesia.

The second-biggest emitter listed for Maine is Dragon Products' cement plant in Thomaston. The energy required to make cement makes the industry one of the largest polluters globally — if it was a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter in the world, according to Carbon Brief. The Thomaston plant ranks 8,798th in the world overall for its emissions, putting out more than 152,000 tons of CO2e in 2021.

The other big feature of the list is Maine's airports, where carbon-dense jet fuel and gas or diesel for ground transportation are major emissions sources. The Portland International Jetport is listed third for Maine and 9,333rd in the world, akin to a landfill in Malaysia or a coal mine in South Africa. The Bangor airport (the 11,936th-largest emitter in the world, according to Climate TRACE) emits a little more than a particular dairy cattle feedlot in California.

I noted earlier that Climate TRACE does not list emissions for power plants in Maine, so I went digging in the Energy Information Administration's data mines for something to compare. The EIA lists carbon emissions (not CO2e) for individual electricity generation facilities through 2020, including ones that feed the regional power grid and that only power specific industrial facilities.

There are three of these power plants in Maine that, in 2020, emitted more carbon than the amount of greenhouse gases Climate TRACE says came from Pinetree Landfill or the Dragon cement plant in 2021: the gas-fired Westbrook Energy Center, a grid-facing power plant owned by Calpine; the Androscoggin Energy Center, which uses gas to power the Pixelle paper mill in Jay that is slated to close next year; and the solid waste-burning Rumford Cogeneration Plant that powers the large ND Paper mill.

Two more facilities rank above the Portland Jetport: ND Paper in Rumford again, with the coal it burns when it doesn't have enough trash to meet its energy needs (many items in EIA's data are individual burners or turbines at the same facility, and ND Paper appears yet again later on the list with emissions from gas); and the gas-fired turbine that powers the Woodland Pulp paper mill in Baileyville.

Taken together, these datasets paint a picture of large-scale Maine emissions that come primarily from landfilling, air travel and the paper and cement industries. And there is one other missing piece to consider, which even an innovative analysis like Climate TRACE's would struggle to pin down: the many individual gas-powered cars and trucks, and home oil, propane and wood burners, that keep Mainers warm and on the move. Transportation and heating oil are the major priorities in the state's climate plan. As the world gets better at analyzing its emissions sources, these policy solutions may evolve and grow too.

About 50 people came to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute Thursday night to hear The Maine Monitor's Kate Cough and other experts discuss sea level rise. (Photo: Annie Ropeik)

Panel: Rising seas prompt local adaptation challenges

By Annie Ropeik


Maine environmentalists, science fans and folks worried about the future of our coast were in force Thursday night at a panel event co-hosted by The Maine Monitor and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. It delved into The Monitor's recent Unstoppable Ocean series, which looked at the complex impacts of and responses to rising seas in 10 places on the Maine coast.

I was struck by the perspective of Camden Select Board vice chair Alison McKellar, who has a front-row seat to both the threat of rising seas and the possibility for adaptation. She and others discussed how more anecdotal, visual evidence has helped shift the public conversation from one of if sea level rise is happening at all (it is, and increasingly quickly), to one of how we adapt to this climate impact (there are many ways and more funding available than ever).

Make sure you scroll to around the 22nd minute in the video of the event, at the link below, to see a short montage of the dramatic footage McKellar has collected in the past couple of years of waves overtopping Camden's sea wall.

Click here to read our coverage of the panel and explore the series.

In other Maine news:

Electric rates:

Regulators approved major rate hikes, on the order of hundreds of dollars a year and primarily driven by natural gas prices, for CMP and Versant Power.


Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree was among the U.S. delegation at the international climate conference taking place in Egypt.


Gas rates will also rise in Maine, but not as much as initially proposed, says the state's Public Advocate.


Another group pulled a major sustainability certification from the lobster fishery after an audit found risks to endangered right whales.



The Atlantic writes about how Election Day blow-back didn't materialize for Democrats, including Maine Rep. Jared Golden, who voted for the Inflation Reduction Act.


Maine projects getting funding under the bipartisan infrastructure bill include the Route 1 bypass in Presque Isle, flood controls on the Sabattus River and electric school buses for Wells.



An array that would be the state's largest, at 152 megawatts, is ready for construction in Kennebec County.


A first-of-its-kind rare earth minerals deposit that could be mined to make electric vehicles and other technology was found in Aroostook County.


Cargo ship traffic in Portland will continue to rise as the Icelandic company Eimskip adds another weekly stop at the state's only container terminal.


Rebeccah Sanders, a former leader with the National Audubon Society, will be the new CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.


Local officials are making progress on deciding to reopen a major waste-to-energy plant in Hampden.

Jet fuel:

A company wants to make jet fuel from sawdust at Loring Air Force Base.


The University of Maine-Farmington will invest $12 million in more biomass energy production and other upgrades to cut back on oil use.


A federally funded asbestos cleanup at a former diesel power plant would help Caribou reclaim its riverfront.


Bath High School students studied the art of beekeeping to learn about endangered pollinators.


Skyrocketing applications will mean less heating aid per person this year. Meanwhile, Hancock County officials are donating money to local aid funds.


Researchers Downeast are studying how invasive green crabs are affecting declining clam populations.

Water quality:

The China Lakes are in good health, though hot summer weather took a toll.


A new report identifies areas in Gouldsboro where infrastructure is most at risk from climate change-driven sea level rise and worsening storms.


Sunday hunting advocates want to take advantage of the state's new Right to Food. Meanwhile, last spring's turkey hunt set a state record.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.

Annie Ropeik is a freelance environmental reporter based in Portland. She spent about a decade as an award-winning public radio reporter, including with New Hampshire Public Radio, and later worked for Spectrum News Maine. She is now the assistant director of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk and a board member with the Society of Environmental Journalists. You can reach her at or @aropeik, or at her website.

Kate Cough will return to Climate Monitor in December.

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