PORTLAND – Leadership requires the ability to balance the needs of your constituency with those of society as a whole — a dicey proposition, but one that Maine’s best-known environmental lobbyist, Brownie Carson, has managed for 20 years. Musing on the attributes of a leader during a Friday celebration of Carson’s two decades at the helm of the state’s central environmental group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, former Sen. George Mitchell recalled working with Carson to secure passage of the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
All of Washington was engrossed in “an extremely bitter and difficult fight,” in which Carson fought long and hard for more stringent pollution controls. Finally, Mitchell and his fellow congressional leaders struck a deal, only to be abandoned by many environmental groups. But Carson stayed by his side, understanding the value of compromise, Mitchell said during Friday’s annual meeting of the NRCM at the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Family Library.
“Don’t always think of yourself as 100 percent right and your enemy as 100 percent wrong,” he said. “I’ve never learned anything in my life while I was speaking.”
Other longtime friends, including former Maine Speaker of the House Chellie Pingree and representatives from Gov. John Baldacci and 1st District U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, called Carson a “barracuda” and a “bear” with “fire in his belly.” They said it is that tenacity and his ability to work collaboratively without losing sight of his goals that carry the day.
Carson’s tenure at NRCM has spanned the period of debate over a “Big A” dam proposal that would have flooded out much of the West Branch of the Penobscot River, the creation of the Land for Maine’s Future conservation grant program, the endangered species listing of Canada lynx and Atlantic salmon, and more battles over forestry and logging methods than he probably wishes to recall.
The Kennebec River has been brought back from the brink, and now the group is working to restore the Penobscot River to a natural state with a coalition plan to remove several dams. But Friday’s event was anything but a retirement party.
Carson spoke of his drive to clean up the state’s most-polluted river, the Androscoggin. He spoke of reducing mercury and dioxin pollution, and of reigniting the fight against Maine’s “dirtiest power plant,” Wyman Station.
But Carson and Mitchell are spurred not only by their worldviews, but also by the threat they perceive from the Bush administration’s environmental ethic, with new policies that threaten everything the two accomplished in 1990, they said. In coming weeks, Carson intends to deliver to the Environmental Protection Agency hundreds of comments from Maine residents who oppose the trends in federal air policy over the past four years.
“We need to hold our public officials accountable,” Carson said. “Tell them that we want a real program, not the smoke and mirrors that the EPA is offering us.”
Last summer, during the blackouts that struck much of the eastern United States and shut down coal-fired power plants, air quality monitoring equipment showed immediate improvements, said Harry Dwyer of Kents Hill, who was given an award later in the day.
“We can get cleaner air in 24 hours,” he said, displaying the inhaler that his son must use to breathe. “The first thing I guess you’ve got to do is vote,” he said to applause.
And whether advocating in Washington, D.C., Augusta or deep in the Allagash, the story is the same. Maine has developed a reputation for leading the nation on resource issues, and Carson has played an important role in the state’s distinguished history of environmentalists, said Pingree and Mitchell.
“I think you could carry this battle across the nation and across the globe,” Mitchell told Carson.
In other business, NRCM presented awards to four Mainers who are protecting the state’s natural resources.
Lawyers Peter Brann and Ben Lund, from the Lewiston firm Brann & Isaacson, fought alongside NRCM in its legal efforts to block construction of a boat launch at Johns Bridge in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, as well as in defense of the state’s precedent-setting law requiring automakers to dispose of mercury-containing components in junked cars and trucks.
“It’s not unreasonable, if you make the mess, to have to clean it up,” Brann said.
Licensed forester Harry Dwyer of Ghost Dancer Forestry and Andy Irish of Irish Logging in Peru worked alongside NRCM lobbyist Cathy Johnson to develop the state’s new rules to bar “liquidation harvesting,” the practice of stripping trees from a piece of commercial forestland only to immediately sell it for development. The forest industry and NRCM often have been on opposite sides of the table, but on this issue, all agreed that the future sustainability of the state’s forests had to be preserved, for environmentalists and loggers alike.
“We all want healthy forests and sustainable logging to be part of our future and not just a chapter in a history book,” Dwyer said.