AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — More than 500 people packed a forum Thursday in which resource-oriented businesses and activities, from lobstering to hog farming, drew connections between strong environmental regulations and a vibrant Maine economy — all as Gov. Paul LePage listened.
More than two dozen panelists representing an array of interests took turns at the microphone at the Roundtable on Maine People and the Environment at the Augusta Civic Center.
The Republican governor, who was depicted by opponents as anti-environment during the fall campaign, listened intently to the speakers, and after all had spoken declared he supports strong environmental regulations — provided they are common sense, based on good science and are applied with “a good partnering attitude.”
Speakers repeatedly stressed a theme that a clean environment is Maine’s calling card, and without it businesses — even some which, for decades, were critics of regulations — will wither in the absence of laws protecting the state’s natural resources.
“I can’t work in the woods if I don’t have a woods to work in,” said Harry Dwyer, a logger for three decades based in Fayette. Among other panelists joining him were businesses catering to outdoor recreationists, a mother worried about chemicals in the environment and former Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, who said she’s logged nearly 150,000 miles running on Maine roads and trails.
“I think that we have a brand that needs to be protected, promoted and embraced, from Aroostook County, where we have potato fields and Maine winter sports facilities in place, to Kittery Point, where we have a seafood industry and a shipbuilding industry married closely and living harmoniously, we need to protect all of this,” Samuelson said.
Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said clean offshore water and conservation are key to sustaining her industry, which brings $1 billion a year in economic activity.
“Maine lobstermen were conservationists long before being a conservationist became cool,” McCarron said.
Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammers Association, put it another way: “Without excellent quality, the 2,000 Maine clammers … are out of business.”
Some speakers acknowledged problems in some of Maine’s natural resource regulations, which have become targets of “red tape” reviews in the new administration.
C.D. Armstrong, president of Deering Lumber Co. in southern Maine, said complaints from builders and developers aren’t necessarily aimed at the regulations themselves, but rather at those that are unclear and based on poor science. He also suggested to the governor that an ombudsman be hired to help small businesses navigate what may seem a regulatory maze.
“Most of them want to do the right thing,” said Armstrong. “They just don’t know how to do it.”
LePage picked up on that point in his remarks, and said that tough regulations are not the problem. Adversarial application of the rules, he said, cause problems. He cited as an example of a rule that needs to be reworked one that effectively blocks farmers from applying pesticides on their fields because of a public notice provision.
“What we have done in the state of Maine, is we have forgotten to use a little bit of common sense, we forgot to take science as our guide for good environmental regulations,” LePage said. “The other thing we have done is become adversarial with the private sector, and we need not do that, because ultimately, at the end of the day … everyone needs to make a living.”
LePage drew applause from the crowd when he pledged to take a stand against air pollution originating in other states and drifting into Maine.