AUGUSTA — Maine’s natural beauty is what attracted Everett “Brownie” Carson here from his home state of Virginia during the 1960s.
And that beauty kept Carson here after he graduated from Bowdoin College and earned a law degree from the University of Maine.
It’s also what fuels a passion for his work as executive director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, where he is celebrating his 20th year leading that organization in its ongoing efforts to protect the environment.
“I think we all have a responsibility for a bright future for this state,” Carson said during a recent interview in a sunny library at the council’s Augusta office. “I love Maine. It’s just part of me. I’m simply trying to do my part to take care of one corner of the world that’s really a beautiful place.”
The council will honor Carson and his work at its annual meeting Friday in Portland.
Carson, 56, started as a lobbyist with the council in 1983, after having practiced law for six years with Pine Tree Legal Services in Augusta. At the time, the council had a staff of seven and operated on an annual budget of $250,000.
Today, the budget has grown to more than $2 million with a staff of 27 employees.
One year after coming onto the council’s staff, Carson became its executive director, taking leadership of what would become one of his most challenging and career-defining environmental efforts.
The council was leading an alliance of environmental groups and outdoor recreational advocates and businesses in a fight to block the Big A Dam, which Great Northern Paper Co. wanted to build on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. The dam threatened to create a lake in one of Maine’s prime fishing and white-water rafting areas, and destroy the only remaining portion of the Penobscot River gorge.
It took six years — but, by 1986, the coalition succeeded in blocking the dam.
Carson said the effort, though lengthy, was worth the hard work and doesn’t seem like much of a trial when compared with continuous efforts of two former U.S. senators who had strong environmental records.
“Maine is really a treasure, and people like (U.S. Sen. Edmund) Muskie and (U.S. Sen.) George Mitchell devoted their entire careers to protecting the environment. So a six-year campaign devoted to protecting a river is modest by comparison,” Carson said.
Two years later, Carson and the council became involved in another river protection project — this time lobbying the federal government to remove Edwards Dam and restore sea-running fish to the Kennebec River.
Carson said this was precedent-setting work: The federal government had never ordered the removal of an operational hydroelectric dam over the objections of its owner. But 10 years later, the dam came down, signifying the end of another battle and also marking one step in an ongoing effort to restore the Kennebec River.
Carson thinks river restoration efforts will last beyond his lifetime.
“Maine’s rivers have been abused and heavily used for decades. We have a personal responsibility to do all that we can to restore them and balance their use,” Carson said.
Other issues that still need work include getting the state and federal governments to reform their energy policies, Carson said. He applauded the state’s congressional representatives and U.S. senators for being committed to exploring cleaner energy alternatives.
He also said the state needs to send a bond issue to voters next year to set aside money for further public land acquisitions — which they failed to do last session. Another issue will be taking additional steps to protect Maine from mercury pollution.
Carson said he intends to stay involved in these initiatives as the council’s executive director for as long as he feels a sense of usefulness and energy in the position.
He said he enjoys working with an excellent staff at the council and views them as an extension of his family.
Carson lives in Brunswick with his wife, Dana Porter, and their twin daughters, Becki and Elizabeth.
“This work continues to be very challenging,” Carson said.