By Jeremy Sheaffer, Maine state director of The Wilderness Society in Hallowell
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Mainers take pride in our wild forests, rivers and shorelines that support our outdoor traditions and our growing recreation economy.
Increasingly, voters in Maine measure the merits of political candidates by the strength of their commitment to conservation, as they should.
Recently, demonstrating a value for conservation and bipartisan common sense, Maine’s congressional delegation voted to approve a broad, bipartisan bill that will protect more than 2 million acres of wild public lands across the U.S. and also permanently reauthorize the historic Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired last fall.
On another recent vote, citing concerns about the effects of drifting pollution from coal-fired power plants on the health of Mainers, Sen. Susan Collins wisely opposed the confirmation of Andrew Wheeler as director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Sen. Angus King also voted no.
Unfortunately, Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 28. As a fervid advocate for the coal industry, Wheeler will support policies that are favorable to coal burning energy and corresponding mercury pollution in the air and greenhouse gases that worsen climate change.
But another crucial vote looms on the horizon. In the days ahead, the Senate will vote on the nomination of David Bernhardt as secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency that oversees hundreds of millions of acres of public land across the nation. Bernhardt currently serves as acting secretary of the Interior Department.
As a lobbyist for energy and mining companies, Bernhardt has worked to water down air pollution rules. He has been the behind-the-scenes manager of President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back protections of national treasures throughout the U.S. He has embraced the Trump administration’s denial of climate change and their irresponsible drill-everywhere agenda.
Also, in the past few days, ethics watchdogs and members of Congress have raised questions about actions taken by Bernhardt that would benefit one of his former clients — a large water district in California — by weakening protections for a threatened fish species.
In sum, I think most Mainers would agree that the U.S. Senate should not confirm Bernhardt to be the secretary of the Interior — a position that presides over the management of the public lands and waters that belong to all of us.
Few places in this nation are blessed with Maine’s abundant opportunities for outdoor adventure, from Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and Acadia National Park to the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and many places in between.
This is no accident. Lawmakers in the State House and Congress have had the foresight to set aside places as natural reserves to ensure that we can continue to reap the benefits of wild recreation areas, clean air, clean drinking water and habitat for wildlife.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a perfect example. Over its 53 years, LWCF has invested more than $187 million in Maine’s forests, wildlife refuges and access to public lands, according to the LWCF Coalition. The program has helped to conserve places like, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Saddleback Mountain, Rangeley Lake State Park, and Allagash Wilderness Waterway as well as Acadia National Park.
Outdoor recreation produces $8.2 billion in spending in our state and directly employs 76,000 people, according to the Outdoor Industry Association
As Congress has proved over the past few weeks, conservation is one topic everyone can all agree on. In Maine, our health — including our economic health — is connected to the wise conservation of our forests, waterways and air.
We hope that Maine’s congressional delegation will continue to stand up for conservation of our remaining wild places so future generations, as well as our own, can benefit from their gifts.