by Susan Sharon
MPBN radio news story
Maine’s largest environmental group has a new executive director. Lisa Pohlmann takes over the helm at the Natural Resources Council of Maine at the end of the month when Brownie Carson officially steps down after 26 years. Pohlmann is a former board president and deputy director at NRCM who has previously worked for the Maine Center for Economic Policy and as an advocate for victims of domestic violence. She sat down for an interview with Susan Sharon to discuss some of her priorities and the challenges that lay ahead.
NRCM has a 50-year history of protecting and advocating for Maine’s air, land and water. Most recently the group has taken its battle against the Plum Creek Timber Complany’s development plan for Moosehead Lake to court.
Lisa Pohlmann says she has no intention of backing down from any front, even as the Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Regulation Commission come under heavy criticism from Maine’s business community, the LePage administration and others.
“We have been hearing a lot of rhetoric about environmental rollbacks. We’re concerned about that. But we always start a new administration and meeting with new legislators with an open mind and we’re looking forward to seeing what can happen,” she says. “Maine’s environment is the foundation of our economy and if this new administration wants a prosperous Maine economy, than I think its first priority should be to make sure that we’re protecting the Maine environment and that we’re not moving us backwards.
Susan Sharon: “Have you had, or have you asked for, meetings with Gov. Paul LePage yet?”
Lisa Pohlmann: “We have not yet. Brownie is still the executive director. He will be there through the end of the month, but we will be looking forward to meeting with the governor soon.”
SS: “There has been so much talk in the last year about Maine’s business climate, during this past election, the ranking of Maine at the bottom of the states for business climate–do you think that the environment is taking a back seat to that and is that something that concerns you?”
Lisa Pohlmann: “Again, I think that the environment is the foundation of Maine’s economy, and we have to take very measured approaches to how we’re going to expand business, expand the economy, while at the same time protecting Maine’s environment. Automatic knee-jerk reactions to environmental regulations just is not the way forward. That said, I think it’s perfectly fine to look at what’s there, to figure out how to make things more cost effective and more efficient, but ultimately we need to protect the enviornment.”
Though most bills for the current legislative session have yet to be printed, Pohlmann says one bill NRCM will challenge is one that would abolish the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission and give the responsibility to county commissioners.
LURC is the equivalent of a state planning board for Maine’s unorganized territories that encompass the North Woods. NRCM helped create the agency more than 30 years ago.
“And we really believe that the 10 million-acres that makes up our Great North Woods is a treasure of statewide significance, and it is part of our Maine brand and all Maine people have a stake in how it is treated,” Pohlmann says. “So LURC is the body that was created to take that statewide view. These decisions should not be made at the county level, and we really feel like to abolish LURC is a negative step and really puts that resource at risk.”
Susan Sharon: “One of the other things we’ve heard from the LePage administration recently is about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. There have been a couple of other states that have already used the money from RGGI–Maine has something like $24 million dollars over the past seven years that has been achieved through this regional cap and trade program–these other states have moved to balance their budgets with that money and the LePage administration has not ruled that out. Will that be something you will fight?”
Lisa Pohlmann: “NRCM was part of a bipartisan decision on the part of the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and we have been using, as a state, those funds for energy efficiency for households, businesses and big industries, and that is one of the most successful programs that we have. And it would be a huge mistake to divert those funds to any other purpose. We have been saving businesses money. We’ve been saving households money. We should be putting more money in, not less, because ultimately we’re fighting climate change, we’re fighting sending all of our hard-earned dollars out of the state for the price of oil. We can fight on the environmental front and on the economic front by putting more money in energy efficiency.”
Susan Sharon: “Your organization has 12,000 members. Do you have personal goals as you head into your new job to expand that? Are you going to be working in-state and how are you going to do that?”
Lisa Pohlmann: “Well, I am really looking forward to getting out in the state, being very visible and accessible, talking to Maine people from all walks of life from all across the state about what their environmental concerns are and how NRCM can help. Obviously lots of Maine people have joined NRCM over the years because they believe in the importance of what we do to protect the Maine environment. People count on us to work on the front lines of the policy-making process and to let them know what’s going on. So we are grateful that people trust us and that we have that reputation, and I look forward to interracting with lots of Maine people going forward.”
Pohlmann says it is her goal to increase membership, and with a diverse board of directors and more than 20 staff members, she says NRCM is in the strongest position it’s ever been to provide leadership on environmental issues.
One area the group has yet to take a position on is the governor’s nominee for commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Darryl Brown is a former state legislator whose company has been selected to help develop the Oxford casino-resort, which will need permits from the agency he’s been tapped to run. Brown’s confirmation hearings have not yet been scheduled.