By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage continued confronting the Natural Resources Council of Maine, accusing them Wednesday of “playing to the media” and inviting the group’s director, Lisa Pohlmann, to meet with him.
LePage, critical of a news conference held by the NRCM last week outside his office at the State House, used his weekly radio address to again attack the “job-crushing, anti-business policies of NRCM.” In the address released Wednesday, the governor did not list any specific policies as examples of the group’s purported “anti-business” stature.
The spat between LePage and the state’s leading environmental advocacy organization has been ongoing for years but recently intensified, when LePage put an image of a scientist at NRCM on a “wanted” poster and sent letters to hundreds of the organization’s donors.
“I have written another letter to Ms. Pohlmann,” LePage said in the radio address. “I invited her to meet with me to discuss how we can work together to conserve our environment while allowing the economic development that will create good jobs for Mainers.”
Pohlmann said in a written statement that she received the June 6 letter Wednesday afternoon and will meet with LePage.
“I am certainly prepared to do so, and I will bring with me some of the people in Maine who strongly believe that a clean environment is essential for a healthy Maine economy,” Pohlmann said. “Over the past five years we have disagreed with the governor’s false notion that Maine needs to dismantle its environmental laws in order to enhance our economy. It’s just not true.”
LePage’s attacks against the organization have been consistent. He and his staff have used the words “job-crushing, anti-business” to describe NRCM on numerous occasions. In his public town hall meetings, LePage has often criticized the organization for its opposition to a failed law that would have made way for large-scale mining in Maine.
The concept of new mining rules in Maine started in 2012 with a bill that stemmed from an announcement by Canadian timber company JD Irving Ltd. that it wants to mine copper and zinc on a 500-acre site it owns on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County. However, the rules would have applied to all of Maine.
The citizen-led Board of Environmental Protection wrangled with the rules for months before adopting a set of rules that were rejected by the Legislature in 2014 through a bill that sent the rules back to the Department of Environmental Protection for a rewrite. NRCM and others argued the rules did not match the intent of the 2012 legislation because, among other reasons, they argued, the proposed rules weren’t strict enough about cleanup after mining is completed and didn’t contain financial guarantees that cleanup could occur, should a mining operation go bust.
The DEP resubmitted the exact same mining rules in 2015, which again were rejected by the Legislature. The 2015 rules failed 109-36 in the House and 26-8 in the Senate.
“Although the Legislature’s 2014 and 2015 decisions to reject the LePage administration’s proposed weak mining rules were big wins for Maine’s environment, the battle to protect Maine from mining pollution is not over forever,” the NRCM wrote on its website.
LePage has argued repeatedly that mining can be done safely and without harming the environment and that northern Maine desperately needs the jobs that mining operations would provide.
“There’s a billion dollars of gold in this county, according to geologists in the state of Maine,” LePage said at a town hall forum in Aroostook County. “I’ve never seen too many people lose money on gold, and there are jobs.”
In his May 27 letter to Pohlmann, LePage brought up mining, the organization’s support of a national monument in the Katahdin region and its decades of work against hydroelectric dams.
“These policy decisions have contributed to the decline of the manufacturing base that has been an anchor for rural Maine and has employed generations of sportsmen and women,” LePage wrote.
The NRCM argues that it doesn’t have any votes in the Legislature and that the reason policies live and die is because of widespread support or opposition among lawmakers. However, the organization does exert extensive influence on lawmakers, especially Democrats. Its former longtime leader, Brownie Carson, is running for the Maine Senate as a Democrat in a district that represents Brunswick, Freeport, Harpswell and Pownal.
“Gov. LePage is the most anti-environment governor in Maine history,” Pohlmann said last week at the State House. “He’s angry because his attacks on Maine’s waters, air, forests and wildlife have been broadly rejected through bipartisan votes at the State House.”
LePage challenged Pohlmann to identify how job creation can be balanced with economic development.
“I’m not talking about short-term jobs for workers to install a couple of solar panels on your neighbor’s roof at our expense,” LePage said. “I’m talking about long-term, good-paying career jobs for Mainers that will lift them and their families out of poverty.”