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A washing machine with an energy-saving setting. alexandrumagurean / E+ / Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Energy released a final rule on January 12 revoking an efficiency standard rollback for certain washing and drying appliances put in place during former President Donald Trump’s administration, a reversal endorsed by efficiency advocates.

In 2020, the Trump administration published two final rules that respectively established new product classes for dishwashers, as well as clothes washing machines and dryers, with “short” cycles — a decision that officials at the time touted would “spur manufacturer innovation to generate additional product offerings to fill the market gap that exists for these products.”

But energy and environmental organizations were critical of the formation of the product classes. Joanna Mauer, a technical advocacy manager at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, wrote in a December 2020 blog post that the rules jeopardized “huge gains in energy and water efficiency.”

Household appliance efficiency gains since 1990 have led to 70% less energy used by new clothes washing machines and 40% less energy used by new dishwashers, according to an Energy Department fact sheet.

“All told, these efficiency gains [combined with gains from other appliances] translate into large dollar savings,” the department wrote. “Today, a typical household saves about $321 per year off their energy bills as a result of standards. As consumers replace their appliances with newer models, they can expect to save over $529 annually by 2030.”

Plus, appliances with short cycles were “already ubiquitous” for consumers to choose,” said Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy, in an October 2021 statement.

Appliance manufacturers were also against the rule changes, noting in public comments that the rules would weaken their decades’ worth of energy and water efficiency investments and increase costs. Their trade group, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, wrote in a public comment that manufacturers “have invested heavily in innovating to meet energy conservation standards for laundry products and to be responsive to consumers’ desire for energy and water efficient products.”

Other stakeholders expressed concern for how and when these new product classes would be established.

“No timeline is presented on when certifications or standards would be implemented,” noted representatives of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, a regional water management program, in a public comment at the time. “Allowing for the production of unregulated products would result in consumer confusion, increases in water and energy use and higher consumer utility bills.”

President Joe Biden issued an executive order the day he was sworn into office directing federal agencies that instructed his officials to “immediately review and… take action to address” regulations put in place by the Trump administration considered to be inconsistent with public health and environmental goals. The washing and drying efficiency rules altered by Trump administration officials were among those deemed to be worthy of “suspending, revising, or rescinding,” explained a top Energy Department official in a February 2021 memo.

These new efficiency rules will be effective roughly a month after publication in the Federal Register, the official federal journal of new rules, public notices and proposed regulations.

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Wind turbine technicians working at on offshore wind farm.


A wind power technician works on an offshore turbine. Photo credit: Monty Rakusen / Image Source / Getty Images

The future of the American energy sector isn’t a coal miner with soot on their nose. It’s a wind turbine technician hoisted hundreds of feet above ocean waves, greasing rotor blades.

By 2050, renewable resources are expected to comprise 42% of the U.S. energy mix, according to a recent report issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical data division of the U.S. Department of Energy. That’s double the amount of renewable resources that powered the American grid in 2020, the agency stated, adding that most of that additional generation capacity is expected to come from new wind farms and solar assets.

That’s in part because as the climate crisis continues to worsen, state and federal officials are increasingly looking toward renewable resources to power homes and businesses around the country. But what differentiates renewable energy from non-renewable energy?

Non-renewable energy comes from resources of which the planet only has a finite amount to share, such as carbon-based fuels like coal, natural gas or oil which cannot necessarily be harvested in any corner of the world.

Conversely, generating renewable energy utilizes resources that are theoretically infinite, like the sun, winds, or tidal waves. Renewable energy can also include biomass, hydropower and geothermal. That same EIA report predicted that the use of coal to generate electricity will continue to fall in the next three decades, while natural gas for electricity generation will comprise around one-third of the country’s power production over that same time period.

More and more renewable energy projects are being proposed to state and federal regulators by developers keen to partake in — and make money on — the renewable energy revolution. One notable project recently approved by federal regulators includes the 800 MW Vineyard Wind 1 farm off the coast of Massachusetts, which CNBC reports will provide enough electricity for the grid to power 400,000 homes and businesses across New England once construction wraps up in 2023.

Investing in Renewable Energy

Sound like something you want to put your dollars toward? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Renewable energy investments have enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years, in part because finance professionals on the whole have developed a stronger understanding of the sector, according to Trenton Allen, the managing director and chief executive officer of Sustainable Capital Advisors, based in Washington, DC.

However, Allen also thinks that growing interest in these types of investments stems from recognition of the deepening and widely noticeable near-term effects of the climate crisis on society and the resulting climate consumerism it has engendered.

“The intensity of actual climate-related events is widespread throughout the country, throughout the world,” said Allen. “When you see the 400-year floods happening twice a year, when you see droughts, when you see wildfires, those things are in people’s minds, the images are there. And people look to figure out what they can do.”

Investors of all kinds — whether they be a professional or an individual selecting stocks for their own portfolio — are considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when they seek new assets in which to invest or consider whether to sell off, or divest, from what they already have. In fact, 85% of investors in 2020 said that they considered ESG principles when selecting investments, according to a fact sheet published by Gartner, a technology research and consulting company, in June 2021.

The goals of ESG investing are fairly straightforward: an interested ESG investor considers whether a potential investment will support a project, company or industry that is environmentally conscious, socially responsible and whose managers consistently adhere to a code of ethical and transparent rules.

However, while renewable energy investments often spring to mind for those interested in selecting environmentally conscious assets, renewable energy and ESG aren’t necessarily synonymous. That’s because while renewable energy may reduce carbon or other greenhouse gas emissions, there are many ways that a renewable energy resource, project or company may not be environmentally friendly. For instance, building large-scale hydroelectric facilities, which produce power that doesn’t directly emit greenhouse gases, may require flooding land or damming rivers, which harms wildlife and human communities. It may also necessitate construction activities that emit greenhouse gases, like tree and vegetation clearing.

Another example of renewable energy projects not necessarily adhering to ESG principles could include certain types of solar panel installations. Some rural or semi-rural communities in the U.S. have protested and lamented the installation of large-scale solar panel installations in their towns that take up vast amounts of open space. While such projects help to mitigate the amount of greenhouse gases tied to electricity production, they sometimes are not considered to be socially responsible in the eyes of the communities that host them.

“Despite the fact that people use them interchangeably within our language — whether it’s ‘ESG,’ or ‘climate friendly’ or ‘socially responsible,’ —  at the end of the day, these are terms that have many different definitions,” explained Allen.

The important thing for an investor potentially interested in renewable energy projects, Allen said, is to “always go back to thinking about what it is that you’re trying to achieve” and to “be mindful of that goal in regards to the dollars that you’re looking to deploy, then try to align that with the companies and other financial products that exist.” Speak with a certified financial advisor to better understand whether certain financial products, such as mutual funds and individual stocks, are appropriate for your financial situation.

“Are you trying to achieve a greater environmental impact for your dollars? If you are, then make sure the products you’re selecting are aligned with that,” Allen said. “If you’re thinking about a company that you’re [interested in] investing in but you don’t really care whether [the investment is] reducing carbon emissions or any other type of emissions, you just want them to be more socially minded, that’s something that you should think about” ahead of time.

Benefits of Investing in Renewable Energy

One benefit of investing in renewable energy companies or developments is that most of the projects involve long-term infrastructure build-outs and essential services, like utilities, Allen said. Many companies that operate renewable energy facilities use long-term power purchase agreements, and thus might not see the same “booms or busts” that other industries may see year over year, he explained.

Additionally, increasing numbers of state and local governments, in addition to the federal government, are setting goals and mandates related to the amount of renewable energy that powers their residents’ homes in the coming decades. That means that there will be a steady stream of potential renewable power developments in which many companies can become involved — and that investors will benefit from.

For example, some states, such as Maine, have required that the entirety of their electricity demand be fulfilled by renewable energy by 2050, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures web page. As of 2020, just under 80% of the New England state’s electricity net generation came from renewable energy sources, including hydroelectric power, per an EIA state energy profile, meaning that the state government will need to support new renewable energy facilities necessary to reach the state’s target.

That regulatory certainty should be appealing to investors thinking about the ‘upside of the market,’ or the potential value, Allen said. Taking a “balanced approach” between riskier investments gives the potential investor “the ability to sort of think through [balancing] a portfolio based upon different regulatory and market needs, and then also thinking about how this is done based on geography and other types of concerns for these particular projects.”

Because of regulations and requirements to encourage renewable energy development, there may be local, state or federal subsidies, tax credits or financial incentives for developers, Allen suggested. That may mean a larger return on the investment for the company developing a project, meaning potentially more money for investors. Keep in mind the different subsidies and incentives that different jurisdictions may offer similar companies in different geographic areas and how that could impact their overall financial returns.

Further, investing in renewable energy doesn’t necessarily mean only investing in solar, wind or geothermal. The supply chains for these projects and their developers are massive and complex, meaning there are many different companies that an individual investor could consider that would support the widespread adoption of renewable energy. 

Cons of Investing in Renewable Energy

According to Allen, there are institutional “barriers to entry” that make it harder for individual retail investors to invest directly in a renewable energy project unless they are an accredited investor, meaning they can trade securities that aren’t registered with certain government financial oversight agencies, or have a retail broker who can process an investment or trade for them.

“So the question becomes, how do you then get participation [in these types of investments] from investors who don’t have relationships with retail brokers, who may not be considered accredited investors?” Allen said. “And so having sort of a greater variety of who gets to participate and how they do it, I think that is incredibly important in expanding sort of opportunities, particularly in the finance space.”

Another problem can be locating and digesting correct, comprehensive and unbiased information about potential renewable energy investments, Allen said. Frequent misuses and mix-ups of terms that aren’t actually synonyms doesn’t help alleviate confusion, but there are also many considerations within ESG that don’t necessarily complement the others. That’s to say, a particular project may have some beneficial traits, but those same traits might be harmful to another environmental, social or governance factor.

“It does become the job of the investor to sort of ferret through all of that, which is in some respects a little unfair,” Allen said. “So part of it is trying to find trusted sources of information [that potential investors can use] to educate themselves.”

Alyssa Stankiewicz, a lead sustainability analyst at Morningstar Manager Research, agreed that there isn’t much easily accessible entry-level investment research or advice. She added that because the disclosures that U.S. companies have to file aren’t completely standardized, individual investors might not have the “time and resources that they can dedicate to that due diligence.”

However, she said, the information that is available around renewable energy projects is stronger than what is available for the socially conscious and governance angles of ESG.

“One other factor that I think is driving the surge in popularity for climate funds — and that’s maybe harder to nail down or quantify — but the data around climate impacts, while it’s not as strong as traditional financial data, is much stronger than the data that’s available for themes such as diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said. “And so in that way, I think it’s a bit more feasible [to make climate-minded investments] given what’s available to investors to come up with a [financial] product that can rightfully claim to be targeting” the factors that a potential investor cares about.

Further, even though recent polling from the Pew Research Center shows that a majority of Americans are somewhat or very concerned that climate change will personally harm them in their lifetimes, there are many high-profile examples of residents of areas being considered for renewable energy projects that oppose the development for any number of reasons. That opposition can sink a project.

For example, a controversial power transmission project — a type of infrastructure crucial for carrying electricity from where its being generated to where there is greater demand, like city centers — that has been partially constructed in western Maine has since been forced to stop its planed build-out after voters rejected the project through a ballot measure in November 2020. The developer is challenging the constitutionality of the referendum, but nevertheless the project is stalled despite receiving its permits.

Before investing, think about the different potential problems that might arise with a particular renewable energy project or with a company working on certain types of renewable projects, Allen suggests.

“Renewable energy is not a monolith,” he said. “The types of investments and opportunities, and the risk associated with them, are different based upon the types of projects and installations being done.” Further, he added, “a project that is done on a local YMCA within a city like Philadelphia, doesn’t have the same issues related to [transmitting the generated power], but they may have different issues, and so there are different risks that need to be evaluated.”

Bridget is a freelance reporter and newsletter writer based in the Washington, DC, area. She primarily writes about energy, conservation and the environment. Originally from Philadelphia, she graduated from Emerson College in 2016 with a degree in journalism and a minor in environmental studies. When she isn’t working on a story, she’s normally on a northern Maine lake or traveling abroad to practice speaking Spanish.

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If you think electric cars are a new concept, you're not alone. Until recently, EV’s drew interest mainly from a niche group of enthusiasts.

If you think electric cars are a new concept, you’re not alone. Until recently, EV’s drew interest mainly from a niche group of enthusiasts.

Gasoline-powered cars and trucks are usually considered to be the ‘traditional’ types of those vehicles, but electric vehicles were being developed right around the same time, according to a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) post. Although Karl Benz is credited with inventing the first gasoline-powered automobile in Germany in the mid-1880s, the first crude electric vehicle — an electric carriage — was invented in Scotland around 1832. Other early forms of electric vehicles popped up in the ensuing decades.


Within 50 years, the first “successful electric car” was developed in Iowa, although the vehicles were still a far cry from modern-day electric vehicle technology, according to the DOE.

“By 1900, electric cars were at their heyday, accounting for around a third of all vehicles on the road,” explained the DOE, noting that “strong sales” continued for the next decade. But technological advancements and an American desire to travel outside of electrified cities played a part in propelling the popularity of gasoline-powered vehicles past electric vehicles, a preference that stuck for decades.

What Are the Types of Electric Vehicles?

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs)

Hybrid electric vehicles utilize both internal combustion engines and vehicle batteries that power electric motors. Drivers can fill up their gas tank and go, but benefit from a ‘regenerative braking’ system that charges the internal battery, storing the energy created otherwise lost by braking the vehicle. An HEV’s battery can’t be charged with a plug like other kinds of electric vehicles.

“In an HEV, the extra power provided by the electric motor may allow for a smaller combustion engine,” according to the DOE’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. “The battery can also power auxiliary loads and reduce engine idling when the vehicle is stopped.”

“Together, these features result in better fuel economy without sacrificing performance,” the center continued in a post.

Although such vehicles have electric batteries, some don’t consider them to be full electric vehicles.

“Generally, since hybrids don’t have a plug, we don’t consider them to be electric vehicles,” explained Amalia Siegel, a program manager at Efficiency Maine, a quasi-state energy efficiency agency. “Although hybrids are a great choice [and] they have great fuel economy, those are sort of in a separate category.”

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), similar to their non-plug-in cousins, use both conventional internal combustion engines and batteries for their power sources. The primary difference, however, is that while PHEVs also can charge their batteries with regenerative braking, they can also power up through the electrical grid with a plug.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

Like PHEVs, battery electric vehicles (BEVs), also known as all-electric vehicles, are able to connect to the grid with a plug and charge up with the same electricity running through our homes and businesses. BEVs can also top up their batteries through regenerative braking.

However, BEVs don’t have any combustion engines that require gasoline, a design feature that means there are no direct fossil fuel-related emissions from the vehicle while driving.

Are Electric Vehicles Better for the Environment?

While some potential electric vehicle drivers may not care too much about whether their car is better or worse for the environment, many people first hear about the vehicles in the context of environmental protection and climate crisis mitigation.

Some critics of electric vehicles note that the “greenness” of an electric vehicle’s charge is dependent on how clean the power is in the grid it’s plugged into. In New England, for example, the regional grid operator primarily generates electricity through natural gas, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration database. And Texas, which has its own electricity grid, natural gas and coal are the first- and second-most utilized energy source for power production.

Nevertheless, “the thing about electric vehicles is that they’re just more efficient than gasoline vehicles, regardless of where the energy is coming from,” explained Siegel. “So there are some places in the country that have a very strong renewable energy mix, and where the electricity is very green to begin with, but even in states… that have more coal in the mix or some other fossil fuels, it still ends up being that the greenhouse gas emissions are still lower” stemming from the use of an electric vehicle.

However, there are other environmental considerations beyond transportation efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, even if the emissions-heavy transportation sector is still a large concern.

Critics and event supporters of electric vehicle development point to the necessity and procurement of certain metals, such as lithium and cobalt, that are integral to the production of electric vehicle batteries. Mining for these materials is controversial because while the substances are essential to the transportation electrification evolution, environmental damage and human labor exploitation persist.

Interest has grown in seafloor mining as developers seek more sources of cobalt and nickel, but there is limited collective knowledge on what the long-term impact of excavating the ocean floors and disrupting the ecosystem and its aquatic life may be.

Back onshore, mining for critical battery materials is no less contentious. Over half of the world’s known deposits of cobalt, for example, can be found in the ground beneath the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose cobalt mining industry is rife with corruption and human rights concerns, according to a recent New York Times investigation.

How Long Does It Take to Charge an Electric Vehicle?

electric car charging

Kindel Media / Pexels

Depending on the type of charging equipment you’re using, powering up your electric vehicle can take anywhere from half an hour to longer than overnight. Older electric vehicle models may not have plugs for more-advanced rapid chargers.

According to an Efficiency Maine post, level 1 chargers are the slowest type, taking sometimes up to 15 hours to fully charge a battery. These cords are typically included with the vehicle at purchase or lease. Level 2 chargers, which Efficiency Maine noted are the most common type to be installed in homes, usually add around 14 to 35 miles of range in an hour of plug-in time. Subject to the size of the battery, a full charge can take as little as three hours to as long as 10 hours, the agency explained.

Level 3 chargers provide the most-rapid power-ups for electric vehicles and are usually found at public locations like rest stops. According to South Korean car manufacturer Kia, “it tends to take longer to charge at a lower temperature, particularly when using a rapid charger,” in addition to other charging speed limitations like battery size and charging equipment speed.

Of course, not everyone has their own garage at home to plug into. Many people live in apartment or condo buildings where their utility bills aren’t tied to the power being used in the garages. In those cases, Siegel said, electric vehicle drivers looking to power their cars up at home should be proactive with their landlords or building managers.

“I think the important thing is to give them a sense of roughly how much electricity you’ll be using, because maybe some landlords don’t really have a sense of that,” Siegel explained. “It’s going to be different in different situations,” she added, noting that some buildings might actually be able to directly charge your apartment or condo for the electricity used. But either way, striking up a deal ahead of time about when you will charge and how much you will compensate your property manager will save you a headache later on.

Of course, there are publicly available chargers that anyone can tap into. Two resources for locating publicly available chargers include the DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center’s filterable map and Plugshare, a free website and phone app that bills itself as “the most accurate and complete public charging map worldwide, with stations from every major network in North America and Europe.”

How Much Does It Cost to Charge an Electric Vehicle?

Even when gasoline prices aren’t high, many drivers dream of a cheaper way to fuel up. Siegel said the best way to see the cost difference between a combustion engine and an electric vehicle is not to compare the cost to fill a gas tank with the cost of charging up a vehicle battery. Instead, she said it’s better to compare the cost of traveling 100 miles in either vehicle to gauge savings.

“If you’re just using electricity from your home, you could expect to pay about half as much to drive an EV than to drive a gasoline car,” said Siegel, noting that she recently calculated that it would cost between $4.80 – $5.00 for a resident of Maine to charge their electric vehicle for a 100-mile drive, compared to around $9.00 – $10.00 to drive 100 miles in a gasoline-powered vehicle.

For her calculation, she assumed an electric vehicle with an efficiency of 30 kWh per 100 miles, like the Nissan LEAF, and a gasoline-powered car with an efficiency of 30 miles per gallon. Siegel also assumed gasoline cost $3.00 per gallon.

Outside of the home, public charging stations aren’t likely to be more expensive than charging at home but may require you to make a free account, Siegel said. However, “it’s no different than signing up for a frequent shopper card at your local grocery store,” she added.

What Are Electric Vehicle Tax Credits?

There are two primary ways that governments are looking to incentivize electric vehicle purchases: rebates and tax credits.

According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, federal electric vehicle tax credits can apply to eligible vehicles acquired after December 31, 2009. Federal credits range from $2,500 to $7,500. You still need the money to pay for the sticker price at the lot, but you’ll get a certain amount back on your next tax filing, depending on how heavy the vehicle is and its battery capacity.

However, the major infrastructure bill currently making its way through the U.S. Congress may increase the upper limit of the tax credit. According to CNET, some electric vehicle models may be eligible for up to $12,500 in federal tax credits, if the bill becomes law.

An important consideration for those looking to take advantage of the federal tax credit (as currently codified) is that if you don’t owe more than $7,500 on your taxes, you can’t receive the maximum $7,500 in tax credits, Siegel explained.

“You can only claim that up to the amount of taxes you have,” she said. “So if you only have $5,000 worth of tax liability, you’re not going to be able to get the full amount of the tax credit.”

Of course, states can implement their own rebate or tax credit programs that can provide additional savings for potential electric vehicle drivers.

“In Maine and a lot of other states that I know about, you can absolutely stack them because [the federal tax credit and state-specific rebate or tax programs are] completely different,” said Siegel.

To learn whether your state has additional credits, it may be best to reach out to environmental, efficiency or energy organizations, nonprofits or utilities in your state to ask for the latest information on rebate or tax credit programs for which you qualify.

Some Pros and Cons of Electric Vehicles

In addition to the already stated positives and negatives of electric vehicles, potential electric vehicle purchasers may wonder about other practical driving and maintenance concerns.

Lower Maintenance Costs

No engine? No problem. While you still need to go to the mechanic, “What the research shows is, generally speaking, electric vehicles result in lower operating and maintenance costs over a given year,” said Nicholas Ucci, commissioner of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources. “You don’t have a lot of the same ‘moving pieces’ that you do in a gasoline engine, like oil changes, for example, so that can reduce… the total cost to a consumer and operating a vehicle like this.”

Ucci added that, of course, there are some components that will still need to be replaced, like windshield wipers and tires, just as frequently as a gasoline-powered vehicle would require.

However, not all mechanics may be trained up on servicing an electric vehicle. Certain parts require specific training, according to a recent SF Weekly article. That has led to efforts to attract new mechanics to the field who can specialize in electric vehicles or service both electric and gasoline vehicles.

In general, Ucci said, “When you go to a mechanic, you always want to know what their qualifications are, so if you do have an electric vehicle, I think it’s important to ask the mechanic if they’re certified to work on the type of vehicle you own, if there are additional certifications that are needed [in your area].”

Range Anxiety

Some potential electric vehicle drivers and owners worry that they’ll be driving and get stuck without a charge, unable to get to their actual destination. That range anxiety used to be more common with older models that couldn’t take you as far on a single charge.

“For most modern electric vehicles, [you can drive] about 250 miles or more before needing another charge,” explained Siegel, adding that most people only drive up to 30 miles in a day. “So if you know how far you drive on a typical day, you can get a sense of what your needs are going to be” in terms of selecting the type of electric vehicle for you.

If you’re regularly taking rides over 200 miles in a single day, you’ll likely want a hybrid electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle to minimize any anxiety. But “for most people, the range of an average, new electric vehicle is going to be plenty for their driving needs,” Siegel said.

What’s the Future for Electric Vehicles?

As concern for the environment and climate has grown, so too has the desire to return to the electric vehicle. By the end of 2020, around 11 million electric vehicles were registered with governments around the globe.

That may not sound like many — and it’s not, considering that the planet surpassed 1 billion cars alone back in 2010 — electric cars, buses, vans and trucks are expected to account for 7% of road transportation by the end of this decade, assuming government policies as of May 2021 are followed. For example, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in August 2021 setting a goal to have half of all new vehicles sold in the country be zero-emission models by 2030. Some estimates even suggest that by 2035, every single new car or truck sold in the U.S. could be an electric vehicle.

Some areas of the U.S. seem more keen than others to adopt the personal transportation technology. For example, a recent poll commissioned by two clean energy companies found that a majority of registered Massachusetts voters said they were likely to buy an electric vehicle within five years.

Bridget is a freelance reporter and newsletter writer based in the Washington, DC, area. She primarily writes about energy, conservation and the environment. Originally from Philadelphia, she graduated from Emerson College in 2016 with a degree in journalism and a minor in environmental studies. When she isn’t working on a story, she’s normally on a northern Maine lake or traveling abroad to practice speaking Spanish.

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