From Margaret Chase Smith to Rachel Carson, Maine women have made many significant marks.
by Joan Benoit Samuelson and Lisa Pohlmann
Portland Press Herald op-ed
March is Women’s History Month, a national celebration of the generations of women whose invaluable commitments and leadership have helped to make the world a better place. We’d like to acknowledge some of the many women in Maine who have devoted their talents, skills and energy to promoting conservation.
Let’s start with writer and reformer Elizabeth Oakes Prince Smith (1806-1893). Born in North Yarmouth, she climbed Mount Katahdin in 1849 – the first woman known to do so. Her poems, novels and essays in local periodicals promoted greater opportunity and freedom for women to develop their talents.
Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby (1854-1946) was Maine’s first licensed guide. Her column, “Fly Rod’s Notebook,” became a hit from Maine to New York, Boston and Chicago. The Phillips native used her platform to recount her many fishing adventures, and also to promote wildlife conservation through catch-and-release fishing as well as bag limits on deer, salmon and trout.
Then there is our treasured Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). Millay grew up in Camden and became a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. Her verse often described the relationship between humanity and nature, especially her well-known poem “Renascence,” written from the top of Mount Battie in the Camden Hills.
If you love to see bald eagles in Maine, thank biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964), whose book “Silent Spring” and other writings helped to stop the proliferation of pesticides. Her work prompted the nationwide ban on DDT, which had decimated the bald eagle population. Carson moved from Pennsylvania to Southport Island in 1953, and found Maine to be the perfect place for beach walks, scientific study and contemplative writing that helped launch the modern environmental movement.
Maine’s female congressional political leaders include Republican U.S. Sens. Margaret Chase Smith, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Democratic 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, all of whom have had a deep connection to the nature of Maine, and have translated that connection into votes for land conservation and air and water protections. As well, there have been scores of women in the Maine Legislature whose leadership has helped restore rivers, protect coasts, reduce solid waste and promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.
We, too, are among the scores of women business, nonprofit and volunteer leaders who are leading the charge to address the greatest conservation threat of our time: global climate change.
Maine is warming faster than other states, and the resulting threats are evident. Sea-level rise is eroding our coast. Ocean acidification is dissolving the shells of our clams and oysters. We are overrun with ticks, green crabs and other invasive plant and animal species. Severe rain and snowfalls are crippling farmers and town budgets alike.
The stakes are high for Maine, and we can’t go it alone. We need federal action, and finally, it is underway. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established national limits on the carbon pollution emitted by power plants. Since power plants are the largest source of this kind of pollution that drives climate disruption, this is a critical step. Due to be finalized this year, these new standards will help to drive job creation, reduce energy costs and save billions of dollars in health care costs nationwide.
Thanks to our leaders, Maine is ahead of the curve on reducing carbon pollution. In the late 1990s, Maine joined eight other Northeastern states to form the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an effective way to reduce power plant emissions. The proceeds from RGGI fund energy-efficiency improvements for Maine people and businesses. This has been a win-win for Maine, and now RGGI serves as a model for how the rest of the nation can implement the standards effectively.
National action by the EPA will prompt other states to catch up with our power plant standards, thereby leveling the playing field with coal-burning states that produce cheap power for themselves and air pollution for places like Maine. The EPA has full authority to adopt new carbon limits under the Clean Air Act, but Congress could overturn them, making support from Maine Sens. Collins and independent Angus King critical.
We count ourselves among the long line of Maine women who have stood up for clean air, clean water and, now, climate action. Our leadership inspires the rest of America, and the world, to take care of the Earth we cherish.
We feel a special responsibility because we live in the beautiful state of Maine, and we want to leave it and the rest of the planet as healthy as we can for our children, grandchildren and all of those who follow. Running away from this responsibility is not an option.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS Joan Benoit Samuelson of Freeport, the first women’s Olympic marathon champion, founded the Beach to Beacon 10K, and Lisa Pohlmann is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.