The Natural Resources Council of Maine has 12,000 members, a long list of accomplishments and, yes, a few political opponents.
by John Richardson, staff writer
Maine has passed some of the country’s most aggressive environmental laws, from a ban on billboards in 1969 to a light bulb-recycling program signed by Gov. John Baldacci on Monday.
For the past 50 years, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has been at the center of the action.
“If you stop and think about what the state of Maine could have looked like without the Natural Resources Council, it might have been a far different place,” said Bill Townsend, who joined the organization as a young Skowhegan lawyer just after its founding in 1959.
NRCM, as it’s commonly known in the State House, will mark its 50th birthday on Thursday. Townsend and a long list of other alumni and longtime supporters will be in Augusta to celebrate and reminisce.
The council was formed as a collaboration of several other groups, including Maine Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, the Garden Club Federation and the Pine Tree Rifle and Pistol Society, according to Townsend.
“There were a lot of organizations that were interested in a part or an aspect of the overall picture, but there was nobody there to look at the whole thing,” Townsend said.
The organization now has 24 employees and eight lobbyists who are familiar faces, and voices, in legislative hearings and agency proceedings. The NRCM also has 12,000 members and supporters and receives more than $2 million a year in contributions to do its work.
One of the group’s first efforts was to keep dams and development out of the Allagash River, helping lead to the creation of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in 1966. It successfully fought against dams on the St. John River and West Branch of the Penobscot; a nuclear reactor and aluminum smelter near Acadia National Park; and an oil refinery in Eastport, among other things.
More recently, it has lobbied for bills to fight climate change, and has opposed rezoning land around Moosehead Lake for homes and resorts.
Angus King, who would serve as Maine’s governor in 1994, got his start in Maine politics as a lobbyist for the NRCM and other environmental groups in the mid-1970s.
“A young lawyer in the (Attorney General’s Office) and I sat in his office and drafted the billboard bill. What we did was we took Vermont’s law, and every place it said ‘Vermont,’s we crossed it out and put in the word ‘Maine,’s ” King said Tuesday.
Getting it passed was more difficult, especially given that there were already nearly 5,000 billboards up around the state.
“We had them all over the place,” King said. Now, “because you don’t see them, you don’t notice they’re not there.”>/p>
King also helped the group win passage of the state’s bottle bill, which effectively reduced litter by placing a deposit on drink containers.
“That was a real battle,” he said.
King stopped lobbying after a few years to focus on his law career in Brunswick. The NRCM’s political clout came back to haunt King after he became governor, by lobbying against his proposed compromise on clear-cutting and forestry management.
“We worked together on a lot of things, and there were issues where I wasn’t their favorite governor,” he said.
“It’s a great organization that has served Maine well. If we didn’t have it, we’d have to invent it,” King said.
The advocacy group also has its share of political opponents, and longtime state Rep. Henry Joy, R-Crystal, is proud to be one.
“They pretend to be such a do-gooding organization, and actually they have one goal in mind, and that’s to turn all the northern part of Maine and Down East into a national park,” Joy said. “When it comes to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, I’m not a big fan.”>/p>
Joy said he disagrees with the group on virtually everything, including the billboard ban and the nuclear plant near Acadia.
“They would have helped business and that’s why they were against them,” he said. “They’re very clever people and they have access to millions of dollars.”>/p>
But sometimes, even political rivals might be on the same side.
“The bottle bill – I have no problem with that,” Joy said. “It did give a chance to clean up the roadsides.”>/p>https://www.nrcm.org/about-nrcm/timeline-of-nrcms-history/nrcm-50th-celebration/, and there’s much more to come.
Participants can earn “Brownie Points” that make them eligible for raffle prizes donated by Maine businesses, including a Manatee Deluxe Kayak Package gen