Down East 2013 ©
Governor Paul LePage took his case for the business environment to those who most value the other environment – the one outside your window – on January 20 at the Augusta Civic Center. Over 500 environmentalists turned out, many of them worried by what they’d been hearing from the new governor about rolling back environmental rules and protections.
Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resource Council of Maine did a superb job of organizing the ninety-minute event to give environmentalists an opportunity to express their hopes and concerns to Maine’s new governor. Twenty eight people with diverse backgrounds and interests got ninety seconds each to speak to the Governor.
After they finished, the Governor encouraged environmentalists by saying, “I will never challenge an environmental law based in science. I believe in good strong environmental law.”
You can bet that statement will be tossed back over the net into the Governor’s court many times over the next four years.
His major complaint seems to be about the “adversarial” nature of the implementation of environmental rules. He said he wanted those who violate Maine’s environmental rules to suffer “severe penalties.”
He asked environmentalists to “partner” with him and help create a “better attitude” throughout state agencies.
Here’s what some of the speakers had to say about public health, wildlife habitat, children, energy, and the economy.
Bucky Owen, former Commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said that hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching is a $1.8 billion industry, and IF&W, which brings in $110 million in General Fund tax revenue, gets none of that revenue back to fund its budget this year. He cited the economic potential of this industry, with a specific pitch for river restoration and alewives.
Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited hit a homerun with me when he spoke for Maine’s native brook trout.
“Maine has the last true stronghold for brook trout in the eastern United States,” he reported. “Maine has more than 96 percent of the remaining wild lake and pond (brook trout) populations.”
Reardon smartly raised the economic issue by noting that continued stewardship of Maine’s brookies is critical to a range of small businesses including guides and sporting camps.
I also appreciated the remarks – and long trip to Augusta – by Mark Berry, Executive Director of Downeast Lakes Land Trust in Grand Lake Stream.
Berry reported that the trust was founded in 2001 by guides, lodge owners, and residents, has conserved 450 miles of lakeshore and 350,000 acres of forests and wildlife habitats, sustained over 1,000 jobs in the timber industry, manages 33,000 acres as a community forest, and is now working to conserve 22,000 acres around Grant Lake Stream – a project that is now a top national priority for the federal Forest Legacy Program.
“The Maine Department of Conservation and the Land for Maine’s Future program have been essential to our success,” Berry said.
Dr. Maroulla Gleaton, a leader of Maine’s medical community, offered some of the most compelling testimony, focused on serious public health problems. “Maine has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country,” she reported, “affecting more than 125,000 Maine people, including nearly 30,000 children. Asthma results in an estimated 65,000 school absences and more than 37,000 work absences each year in Maine.
Gleaton also talked about mercury pollution, noting that women and young children are warned to restrict their consumption of Maine fish caught in inland waters.
And she finished her presentation expressing concern about “human exposure to… toxic chemicals in the environment… The Center for Disease Control’s most recent assessment found 212 chemicals in people’s blood and urine samples – 75 of which had never before been measured in the U.S. population.” Birth defects, learning disabilities, cancer, and developmental impacts are the result.
John Cooney of Reed & Reed presented the “economic and environmental benefits of wind energy,” wisely beginning his remarks with an economic message: “Wind power projects have already increased Maine’s tax base by more than $925 million, provided an average of nearly 300 construction jobs each year since 2005, and funneled economic development funds directly to some of Maine’s most rural economies – while providing clean energy to our electric grid, displacing other fuels that create more pollution.”
Garrett Conover, a Maine guide, called wilderness trips “one of the primary engines in the tourism industry. Guests come to enjoy our pristine environment,” he said. He also called for civility and finished his remarks in French, a very nice touch.
Marilyn Meyerhans talked about the importance of the Land for Maine’s Future program, which helped her and her husband purchase and conserve a Manchester apple orchard in an area very vulnerable to development.
The governor heard a plea to keep the new state building code, to help achieve the potential of ecotourism, to reopen the St. Croix River to alewives so lobstermen would have bait, and to keep pesticides from drifting to adjoining property where they could impact organic farms and children.
LePage even got a stern reminder from Father Richard Senghas that, “We have a solemn moral obligation to protect the environment that God has given us.” He repeated that quote from the Pope twice, reporting that the Vatican has “gone green.”
A powerful message indeed.