by Lisa Pohlmann
Portland Press Herald opinion piece
AUGUSTA — Summer is here, and Mainers and visitors are enjoying the splendor of our rivers, lakes, parks, coasts, mountains, forests and wildlife. Meanwhile, Gov. LePage is attacking Maine’s environment.
The governor has publicly declared war on the Natural Resources Council of Maine, but there should be no mistaking his real target: the well-crafted environmental safeguards enacted with bipartisan support over the past 50 years.
The governor thinks Maine’s environment and economy are in conflict and that we need to weaken Maine’s environmental protections to create jobs. Since his inauguration in 2011, he has supported a long list of bills that would have increased pollution and degraded our air and water.
Protecting Maine’s environment is not a partisan issue, yet the governor is trying to make it one. He is using it as a wedge to divide us, but Maine people won’t let that happen. Maine lawmakers haven’t. Through strong bipartisan votes over the past five years, lawmakers from every part of the state have rejected the governor’s proposals to roll back environmental protections.
Republicans, Democrats and independents all want clean air and water. Maine’s most important environmental laws were enacted with bipartisan majorities. Maine people and their elected officials understand that a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand.
Since the Natural Resources Council of Maine was established in 1959, we’ve been a leading voice for reducing air and water pollution. We have worked with citizen groups, municipal officials, businesses, state agencies and lawmakers to achieve progress. By any measure, this work has been a success.
Many people remember that in the 1960s, Maine’s major rivers were open sewers. On hot summer days, the stench pervaded for miles and massive fish kills were common. The lowest property values were found along these foul waterways.
Together, we changed that legacy. Our rivers have come back to life. Millions of river herring return each spring. Bald eagle populations have increased from 20 nesting pairs in 1967 to over 500 today. Riverfront property values have increased, and towns have invested in parks and recreational trails.
Clean lakes help define Maine’s quality of place. In 1972, the NRCM created the Congress of Lake Associations. Maine now has nearly 150 lake associations that help protect water quality. Maine lakes contribute $3.5 billion to our economy annually and support 52,000 jobs.
Maine’s 90 land trusts also help protect the character of Maine communities with open space and trails. They have conserved farmlands and partnered with the Land for Maine’s Future program to protect gems on our landscape, like the Cutler Coast and Tumbledown.
Gov. LePage’s record stands in sharp contrast to these collective efforts by Maine people to conserve the environment they love. Last year, he refused to release $11.5 million in citizen- approved LMF funds, putting over 30 conservation projects at risk. His administration drastically weakened the Department of Environmental Protection’s lake protection program. He pushed for unsustainable logging in Maine’s public reserved forestlands. The list goes on.
Recently, the governor has loudly complained that his proposal to weaken Maine’s mining rules was rejected. This is a classic case of the governor chasing the wrong jobs for Maine. Metal mining is the largest source of toxic pollution in the U.S. and one of the greatest threats to water quality. No economist believes that Maine’s economic future lies in open-pit mining.
The governor claims that the Natural Resources Council of Maine defeated his mining rules, but it was the people of Aroostook County who led the way. They love and need their rivers too much to see them polluted with arsenic and toxic runoff.
The governor’s mining rules applied statewide and would have left Maine taxpayers with cleanup costs far into the future. That’s why lawmakers from all 16 Maine counties voted them down. This was not a north vs. south dynamic; it was Maine people and lawmakers deciding that highly polluting activities are simply not worth it.
Mainers in every corner of the state love our environment. For 57 years, the NRCM has been working with people throughout Maine. Our supporters live in 504 Maine communities – from urban areas to small rural towns like Milbridge, St. Agatha, Buckfield and Monson – with more joining since the governor started his public attacks on the NRCM.
For generations, Maine’s natural heritage has brought people together. We should all be proud of what Mainers have accomplished, including cleaner air and water; conserved lands; cleaner, more efficient energy, and more sustainable communities.
The governor’s attacks on NRCM are out of step with the views of Maine people. What we have conserved together is a treasure. Now is a great time of year to get out and enjoy Maine’s environment, and it’s always a good time to speak out and take action to protect it.
Lisa Pohlmann is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.