The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) recognizes that environmental issues affect communities differently and that, historically, environmental policies and practices have not been equitable to all. To address these injustices, NRCM is committed to providing all Maine residents and visitors with clean water, clean air, and healthy forests. We recognize that NRCM’s mission — to protect, restore, and conserve Maine’s environment, now and for future generations — is best advanced by the leadership, experiences, and values of people from diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures. Threats to the environment disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities.1 We envision and work toward a Maine that recognizes the effect environmental degradation has on its inhabitants and whose residents feel empowered to participate in the protection and conservation of their state’s natural heritage.2
Our Commitment to Environmental Justice
Actions in Support of Environmental Justice
Today, some communities continue to face greater environmental burdens than others. Below are some areas of inequity that NRCM’s advocates are actively working to address:
- Energy Costs: Low-income Mainers carry a disproportionate energy burden that could be eased by renewable energy policies, resources, and financial assistance.
- Accessible Public Transportation: Mainers who either live in more remote areas and/or do not own or cannot use a car are negatively affected by the lack of transportation choices. Seventy-two percent of older Mainers live outside a fixed or flexed transit route.3
- Water Quality: Polluted waters affect Maine tribes who depend on a healthy fish habitat as well as safe drinking water; farms have been contaminated by the spread of toxic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); and communities that depend on water recreation for their economy.
- Landfills: Landfills are traditionally located in lower-income communities and expose nearby areas, as well as adjoining waterways, to toxic groundwater, soil contamination, and disruption to ecosystem. The resulting lower property values contribute negative impacts on local economic development.
- Access to the Legislative Process: Because of geographic location or technology constraints, not all Mainers have the same opportunity to share their experiences and suggestions for solutions.
A Brief History
Although environmental injustices have always existed in the United States, 1960s farm labor leader Cesar Chavez, who later fought against exposure of farm workers to toxic pesticides, is among the first environmental activists. Today’s environmental justice movement emerged in the 1980s with the exposure of how environmental degradation and pollution disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities. In 1982 a small, predominately African American community was designated as the site of a landfill to accept soil contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB). A massive sit-in against Warren County, North Carolina, resulted. Although the protest failed to prevent the siting of the landfill, it did spark the environmental justice movement. By 1990, leaders began to look for allies among traditional, mostly white environmental organizations, whose efforts largely ignored the struggles of people who lived near and worked in places like hazardous landfills, radioactive waste storage facilities, and chemical manufacturers. A widely publicized letter to the top 10 environmental and conservation organizations accused them of policies with racial bias, lack of diversity in their staff and boards, and ignoring environmental hazards in communities and workplaces of people of color and the poor.4 As a result, some organizations began developing initiatives to increase their commitment to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ).
Environmental Injustices in Maine
In Maine, the challenges to improve and maintain a clean and healthful environment persist for those who live, work, and play closest to the sources of pollution. Maine has a particularly shameful history of persecution of tribal members and destruction of tribal lands. The 1980 Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act and resultant disputes related to water access are prominent in Maine's recent environmental justice history.5 In addition, Maine’s historical demographic patterns created disparity in the ability of non-white, low-income, rural and/or other under-represented residents to access and experience healthful environmental conditions.
In April 2022 the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources passed LD 2018 (HP1500), “An Act to Implement Recommendations Regarding the Incorporation of Equity Considerations in Regulatory Decision Making.” In this bill, environmental justice is defined as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, rules, regulations and policies.”
Our Commitment to Inclusion
In addition to the bills we support, NRCM is committed to embracing diversity and inclusion in the ways we conduct ourselves as Maine’s largest environmental advocacy nonprofit organization. We strive to amplify voices that are often excluded from environmental conversations. By honoring and celebrating people’s diversity, NRCM can bring new creativity, effectiveness, and leadership to our work throughout the state. Achieving diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice is a continuous process, which, we believe, will contribute to a sustainable and peaceful world.
We demonstrate this commitment through the following specific actions: Providing a fair process of candidate recruitment and evaluation and a working environment that recognizes the variety of backgrounds and needs of our employees; employing and partnering with minority-owned businesses; and welcoming discussions with members whose views on NRCM’s priority issues differ from the positions we hold.
Last Updated: May, 2022
2022-2023 DEIJ Committee Members
- Josh Caldwell, NRCM Staff
- Seana Cullinan, NRCM Board of Directors
- Marc Edwards, NRCM Staff
- Kathy Hyttel, NRCM Staff
- Kristin Jackson, NRCM Staff
- Kathy Olmstead, NRCM Board of Directors
- Laura Petrolino, NRCM Rising Leadership Team
- Melanie Sturm, NRCM Staff
- Becca Troast, NRCM Staff
We Support Black Lives Matter
NRCM understands that our land, air, and water are not truly in the public trust until all people are safe to access them, free from intimidation, harm, or hate. Our organization’s work will never be accomplished as well as it could be until we successfully draw an increased number of diverse people to our tables and listen carefully to what they are telling us. And our aspirations for a better future will never be met unless we address systemic issues like police brutality, environmental injustice, or health disparities that people of color suffer from. Clean air and water must not be matters of privilege. Safely running in your neighborhood, birding in a local park, or simply living and breathing must not be matters of privilege. These basic rights must be afforded to everyone regardless of the color of their skin.
On June 3, 2020, NRCM and other Maine environmental organizations released a statement to collectively condemn the injustices and crimes committed against the black community. Read the full statement.
We Support Tribal Sovereignty
NRCM deeply values the work of the Wabanaki Confederacy over the past several decades to safeguard Maine’s environment and natural resources, and we are proud to have played a role in conservation. We feel honored to have worked with the Tribes to restore water quality and the health of Maine’s rivers, remove dams and other obstacles that have prevented sea-run fish from reaching vital upstream habitat, secure passage of the strongest regulations in the country against dangerous metallic mineral mining, and advocate to stop the dumping of polluting out of state waste in Maine, among other accomplishments.
In solidarity with the Wabanaki Alliance, we believe it is important that we be actively engaged in efforts to restore Tribal sovereignty in recognition of the historical genocide and ongoing oppression of native people and the unequal footing of the federally recognized Tribes in Maine relative to their counterparts in other parts of the nation. This comes from both a moral imperative and an understanding that environmental justice is an essential component for environmental organizations throughout all advocacy campaigns going forward. All of our work is conducted regarding and on unceded Wabanaki land.
NRCM supports LD 1626, An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act, which was introduced to the 130th State Legislature by Representative Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland. It would restore the rights of the Wabanaki people to self-govern and to self-determination, rights that have not been recognized since the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act and the Maine Implementing Act of 1980. It would also modify the existing law to ensure that the Tribes would enjoy “rights, privileges, power, duties and immunities” similar to other 570+ federally recognized Tribes.
At NRCM, we believe our responsibility is not limited to advocacy for LD 1626 alone. We seek to be better partners with the members of the Wabanaki Confederacy who stewarded the land and waters of the area we now call Maine for millennia, the same place we are committed to bettering and caring for through our advocacy.
Our Work on Wabanaki Lands
NRCM recognizes and honors the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Mi’kmaq Nation, and Maliseet Tribes of Maine, collectively Wabanaki, which translates as “People of the Dawn.” These Tribes have stewarded Maine for generations, stretching back to before colonial settlers forcibly occupied the area.
The NRCM office in Augusta is on the unceded territory of the Penobscot Indian Nation, and many of us conduct our work on unceded lands once overseen by the Wabanaki. These lands — both urban and rural — have inherited a legacy of broken treaties and genocide. In defiance of these injustices, descendant communities of the Wabanaki maintain spiritual, cultural, and physical connection to these lands.
We acknowledge this history and recognize Indigenous sovereignty. A land acknowledgement like this is an essential beginning — but it is only a beginning. NRCM is committed to actively using our voices, our resources, and our power to support Tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy. We know how important it has been over the 63 years since our organization was founded — and how essential it will continue to be — to work together with the Wabanaki knowledge-keepers to protect the land, air, water, and wildlife of Maine.
1Racial Disparities and Climate Change — PSCI (princeton.edu)