The group has been a leader in setting environmental policy for half a century.
Look around. The state you see would probably not be the same if not for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The pristine Allagash Wilderness Waterway would probably have dams and bridges. The highways could still be littered with bottles, and views obscured by billboards. Now-clean rivers could still carry the smell of industrial pollution.
In the last five decades, NRCM has been in the center of every major environmental fight in the state, often on the winning side, usually forging a solid bipartisan coalition to pass some of the nation’s toughest environmental protections.
The organization celebrated its 50th birthday this week, making it one of the most stable and respected advocacy groups in the state.
The council was formed as a coalition of existing groups that included Maine Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, the Garden Club Federation and the Pine Tree Rifle and Pistol Society. The idea was to have one organization that took on the big-picture environmental issues, instead of smaller groups with narrower focus.
One of the group’s first campaigns was keeping development off the Allagash. It also fought against dams on the St. John River and the West Branch of the Penobscot.
The group also fought against building a nuclear reactor near Acadia National Park and an oil refinery in Eastport.
In recent years it has taken the side of wind-power development, putting itself at odds with other environmental interests. And it has played a key role in the opposition to Plum Creek Timber Co.’s still pending plan to rezone and develop huge swaths of the north woods near Moosehead Lake.
Environmental disputes get tougher, as Maine people struggle for the jobs and opportunity that comes with development. With the most outrageous abuses of past decades in check, and state regulators playing a bigger role than they once did, it might seem that there is not as much work for an outside agency.
But from drafting legislation to providing expert testimony, NRCM is still vital to have as a balance to industry, a strong institution representing the environmental quality that belongs to everyone by right.
The state has been better off as a result of having NRCM for the last 50 years, and it will better off still as a result of the organization’s constant vigilance.