NRCM news release
Scarborough, Maine – Today, at a news conference at Scarborough Beach State Park, speakers including a physician, a young asthmatic, a state legislator, and an environmental expert described the effects President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have on coastal tourism, the health of Maine residents, sea-level rise, air pollution, and Maine’s tourism economy.
The White House proposal singles out the EPA for the deepest cuts of any federal agency, causing widespread concerns in Maine about the potential impacts of these cuts if they are enacted. The Trump Administration is pushing a budget proposal that would slash EPA programs that reduce pollution in Maine, save the lives of Maine people, and strengthen our communities and economy.
“The Trump Administration and its allies in Congress are endangering our children’s health and the safety of our communities by pushing for elimination of environmental safeguards that are vital for Maine people and our economy,” says Emmie Theberge, Federal Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). “These cuts would affect every corner of Maine, but today we are focused on coastal impacts in particular. Sea-level rise could cause widespread economic impacts and costly property damage in Maine communities up and down the coast. Maine can’t afford to have EPA turn its back on climate science and the resources needed to help states prepare. These cuts mean more asthma attacks for our kids, more health problems for Maine’s elderly, and more ‘Code Red’ bad air days when vulnerable people must stay indoors.”
EPA programs that help protect Maine people from dangerous air pollution are slated for deep cuts. Maine already has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, and more air pollution would mean more emergency room visits, more hospitalizations, and more premature deaths. According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, more than 8,000 emergency department visits and 1,000 hospitalizations occur in Maine each year due to asthma. In 2008, the estimated direct cost of asthma in Maine was $264 million. In its 2017 State of the Air report, the American Lung Association gave Cumberland County a grade D rating and York County received a grade F—each county having numerous unhealthy air days.
In 2016, Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) received more than $1.5 million in EPA grants to fund its work to implement the Clean Air Act in Maine, including air quality planning, permitting, inspection, and enforcement. Proposed cuts in air pollution programs would slow Maine’s ability to reduce air pollution. These funds are slated for deep cuts in the Trump budget.
“I came here today to urge Senators Collins and King to keep Maine’s air clean for thousands of kids like me who suffer from asthma, and for everyone else, too,” says Hunter Lachance, a high school student from Kennebunkport. “Asthma is no fun. It is scary when I cannot breathe and I need to miss school and hang out indoors on dangerous air days. Maine has one of the highest rates of asthma in the nation. Our air is polluted by smokestacks and cars in other states, so we really depend on the federal government to protect us. I hope Senators Collins and King do all they can to stop harmful budget cuts and be sure the Environmental Protection Agency is fully funded to protect our air.”
“On those days when Maine’s air is polluted, I regularly see patients with respiratory problems,” says Dr. Tony Owens, an emergency room physician at Maine Medical Center. “It is especially heartbreaking when a serious asthma attack sends a child to the ER when they should be outside playing. We need federal protections because carbon emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes in other states contribute to air pollution here in Maine. We are depending on our senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, to fight harmful EPA budget cuts. They need to ensure the nation addresses carbon pollution to protect Mainers from the dangers of warming temperatures, like sea-level rise and tick-borne diseases, and the dangerous respiratory complications among asthmatics and the elderly. Thank goodness we have an emergency room for medical treatment; too bad there isn’t one for our planet.”
In addition to health impacts, today the group was also bringing attention to two threats Maine’s beaches and coastal communities face: sea-level rise and increased pollution.
Maine’s prized beaches are visited by more than 12 million people each year, according to a report by NRCM. These visitors contribute more than $1.6 billion annually to Maine’s economy.
“Sea-level changes could dramatically affect Maine’s coastal towns in the coming years,” says State Representative Lydia Blume, D-York. Rep. Blume is a member of the Marine Resources Committee and founder of the Maine Legislature’s Coastal Caucus. “Rising sea levels and strong storms have caused beach erosion and destruction of roads and sea walls in Maine. Maine’s coast is major driver of our state’s economy, providing jobs in fishing, tourism, boatbuilding, and shipping. Our communities and state depend on EPA and other federal resources to ensure that we have access to the best science and information so that local planners and town officials can ensure we’re prepared for sea-level rise along our coast. The proposed EPA rollbacks would hurt Maine’s communities and economy.”
Maine’s climate is changing and the impacts could be devastating for our state’s economy, environment, and quality of life, but the Trump Administration has proposed eliminating EPA programs that support work to understand and reduce the risks of climate change.
The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, threatening Maine’s fishing industry and thousands of Mainers who make a living from the sea. Combined with ocean acidification, this threatens our multi-billion-dollar coldwater fisheries from shrimp to lobsters.
Sea-level rise and coastal flooding already are posing a threat to roads, infrastructure, homes, and property. Scarborough Beach, like all of Maine’s coastal regions, is threatened by sea-level rise.
The Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to sea-level rise because it is an enclosed basin—so it is rising faster than other places. There is only a one-foot difference between our 10-year and 100-year flood levels, which means that a moderate amount of sea-level rise would create significant problems.
In Scarborough alone, there are more than 1,000 structures, valued at $124 million, within the 100-year flood plain. Scarborough has many low-lying roads as well, some of which already flood. Even minimal sea-level rise would lead to road closures. Route 1, Pine Point Road, and Black Point Road are some of the major connectors that are low lying and at risk.
In addition to sea-level rise, Maine’s beaches are threatened by increased pollution. Water quality at Maine’s beaches sometimes fails health standards. For example, in 2012, the State issued 194 beach closings or advisories to alert beachgoers to unhealthy conditions. Beach water pollution can cause a range of illnesses, including skin rashes, infections, stomach flu, and neurological disorders.
The Trump Administration’s proposed cuts to EPA would eliminate funds used by Maine DEP to issue these advisories and to monitor beach water-quality. Ferry Beach in Scarborough has benefited from Maine’s Healthy Beaches Program, which would be terminated if these proposed cuts are passed.
The proposed EPA budget cuts would damage virtually all aspects of environmental protection in Maine. Today, a letter signed by more than 70 organizations in Maine was sent to Maine’s Congressional delegation urging them to do “everything possible” to maintain EPA’s budget “at no less than current funding levels. The health of our air, water, people, and economy is at stake.” A petition from more than 1,000 Maine citizens was also sent to the delegation.
“These cuts would be especially bad here in Maine, where our environment, economy, and way of life are so tightly intertwined,” says NRCM’s Emmie Theberge. “In light of these particularly damaging consequences for Maine, we are counting on our Congressional delegation to stand up for Maine and fight to defeat these cuts and other rollbacks proposed in Washington that would hurt our health, economy, and way of life in Maine.”
- Scarborough sea-level rise maps
- Additional information about sea-level rise impacts in Maine and Scarborough
- Letter from more than 70 Maine organizations to Maine’s Congressional delegation
- Petition from more than 1,000 Maine citizens to Maine’s Congressional delegation