On October 16, NRCM celebrated our 2019 Conservation Leadership Award recipients. The event took place in Portland, at the Jewish Community Alliance and was filled with warmth and celebration among our members and friends. It was truly an honor to recognize people so dedicated to helping protect the nature of Maine. I invite you to read all about this year’s award recipients, and to view photos from the evening at our Facebook page.
I also wanted to share with you some of my reflection over the past year, which I spoke of at the event. Under the new Mills Administration, we have made great gains. Although challenges remain, it’s important for us to pause and take inventory of all we have accomplished together. Thank you for your support, and for all you do to keep Maine special.
—Lisa Pohlmann, CEO
Excerpts from the 2019 Conservation Leadership Awards Opening Remarks
There’s so much to say about this past year, and, at long last, most of it is good!
We can cheer the incredible progress we’ve made in energy policy. In the space of a year, Maine has gone from a losing position in New England on our use of clean, renewable energy to setting an example for the nation—and the world. We are thrilled that the Governor of Maine was center stage at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, telling leaders from around the globe about our state’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2045. She even threw down the gauntlet to world leaders, saying, “Maine won’t wait. Will you?”
Despite the obstruction of Maine’s previous administration, NRCM never stopped working on climate policies. Now, we can take steps to wean our state off fossil fuels. We are partnering with other nonprofits, and with businesses and forward-thinking lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum to develop energy policies that support energy efficiency and renewable power.
Governor Janet Mills has set a goal for Maine to get 100 percent of its energy from renewables by the year 2050. Such a bold goal will bring new economic opportunities for Maine people, including good, home-grown jobs.
In September, I attended the first meeting of the Maine Climate Council, which has been charged by the governor with creating a statewide Climate Action Plan. NRCM’s climate and energy director Dylan Voorhees is serving on the Council’s Buildings Working Group. There are very few individuals as passionate or as knowledgeable as he is to help Maine achieve big results, like reducing our state’s emissions 80 percent by the year 2050. Not only can it be done, it must be done. Together, with your encouragement, NRCM will help ensure Maine gets there.
We also made huge progress with plastics. Since 1950, the plastics industry has created 8.3 metric tons of it. That’s the weight of more than 45 million BIG airplanes. Plastic never goes away. It’s in our seawater and lakes. It’s in our oysters and mussels. It’s in our bodies.
Thankfully, we have started to do something about that here in Maine. In January 2021, Maine will be the first U.S. state to begin banning foam food containers. On Earth Day next April, Maine will start banning single-use plastic shopping bags. NRCM’s sustainability leader, Sarah Nichols, had much to do with this. She began working at the town level several years ago. She met with concerned citizens who were ready to tackle the plastic problem and together, they helped to pass local ordinances banning or curbing through charging a fee on single-use plastic bags. That’s how big things like a statewide law often start.
We made progress protecting Maine’s waters this year, too. We successfully advocated that the Legislature to strengthen water quality protections for 400 miles of rivers and streams, including dramatically increasing protections in the upper Penobscot River. We worked alongside Maine tribes on a bill that will help them exercise their sustenance fishing rights. These are now the strongest protections against toxic pollutants for tribal waters in the country.
I firmly believe that Maine people want to find solutions to problems like plastic pollution and climate change. Now, we are able to in an atmosphere of respect and civility.
Were there disappointments? Yes. We are concerned about protections against sprawling development in our North Woods that were weakened. The Legislature also failed to pass a bond that would have re-funded the extremely popular and important Land for Maine’s Future program.
And then there is the matter of CMP’s proposal for a high-power transmission line that would carve through our woods from Quebec to Massachusetts, right through the heart of some economically and ecologically important lands in western Maine. Our research has led us to conclude that this is a harmful and deceptive proposal. But remember: It’s still only a proposal, and there are actions you can take in support of efforts to stop it.
June marked NRCM’s 60th anniversary. That’s six decades protecting the nature of Maine. I have many favorite success stories; perhaps you do, too. I love to be on the water, particularly in a canoe or a kayak. The inland waters of Maine are why I have been so happy living here since the 1970s. During the first weekend of October, four of us paddled a stretch of the Kennebec River from Solon to Madison. It was a 65-degree sunny day and the colors were just starting to peak. The river was alive with fish, insects, and birds—a far cry from the polluted Kennebec that some people remember.
This summer we celebrated the 20-year anniversary of removing the Edwards Dam in Augusta. That was the first major dam removal in the country and spawned the removal of 1,200 more dams across the nation over the ensuing years. There’s been a tremendous return of sea-run fish in Maine since then. We still have work to do, but this is what can happen and should happen when people get out of the way and let nature do its thing.
We can all take pride in what we’ve accomplished together over the past 60 years. But I think all of us recognize that we have major challenges ahead, and a new generation of leaders is needed. NRCM Rising, a group of 20- to 40-year-olds, is becoming increasingly active in fighting for good policies while enjoying all Maine has to offer in the great outdoors. NRCM also provides grants to middle schools to give students opportunities to enjoy a hands-on environmental project. If you are a college student, come intern with us for a semester or a summer and learn what advocacy is all about. We need you!
As NRCM continues our work, we will stay in touch with you about when and how you can take action as we face the threats and opportunities arising each year.