BREWER, Maine — Representatives of several conservation and sporting organizations, as well as the Penobscot Indian Nation, gathered Wednesday morning to send their own message on climate change legislation they say has languished in the U.S. Senate after being passed by the House of Representatives in June.
“[The Senate needs] to act. The world is watching. We can’t wait. The time is now,” said Clinton “Bill” Townsend of Canaan, summing up the sentiments of the group, which assembled to urge Maine’s senators to back passage of the legislation.
Townsend, who has served on the board of many major conservation groups in the state over the years and who has hunted and fished in Maine for more than 50 years, was among those who spoke at a press conference arranged by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The NRCM event at the Penobscot County Conservation Association offices mirrored movements across the nation, as more than 600 conservation groups have signed on to requests for the Senate to pass a version of The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.
The legislation would limit greenhouse gas emissions, create new emission permit rules, and provide incentives for the creation of renewable energy sources and “clean” energy jobs. Critics say it will cause higher energy bills.
Eight speakers at Wednesday’s event made statements in support of the legislation.
Although not all Americans believe that climate change or global warning is a legitimate threat, those assembled Wednesday are convinced that the nation must move quickly to meet what they consider a global challenge.
Speakers pointed to a recent Critical Insights survey that showed Mainers said they want their senators to vote for legislation that reduces the threat of climate change and promotes clean energy development.
In that survey, 77 percent of respondents said they wanted Snowe and Collins to vote for the legislation while 13 percent wanted them to vote against it and another 9 percent answered “don’t know.”
Along party lines, Democrats were most apt to want their senators to vote in favor of climate change and clean energy legislation: 93 percent of Democratic Party respondents, 79 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans wanted their senators to approve legislation.
“I look with a great deal of frustration and dismay when I see what’s happening [in Washington],” said Dick Ruhlin of Brewer, a former state senator and current chairman of the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission. “I see people saying, ‘Well, is global warming really there? Is it really happening?’ I say to them, ‘The jury of scientific knowledge is in, it’s reported, and it is happening. It’s 99 percent agreed upon [by] those people who deal with that. The time for a delay is over. The time for action is now.”
John Banks, the director of natural resources for the Penobscot Nation, agreed.
“We’re at a very, very important, critical crossroads right now. The good news is, it’s not too late to fix the global climate problem,” he said.
After prepared remarks concluded, speakers said they thought that proposed emission controls that would be focused on the coal and oil businesses would be points of contention in the Senate legislative battle.
But they said the challenge must be met.
Ray “Bucky” Owen, a former faculty member at the University of Maine and former commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said Maine has a unique and diverse array of fish, plants and wildlife, and Mainers should pay close attention to climate change issues.
Some animals, such as moose, are at the southern edge of their habitat range, Owen said. Others don’t exist much farther north than Maine.
“If climate change continues and global warming continues, we will have much more of a homogenous group of species,” Owen said. “We’ll be like other states. Right now people come to Maine because they enjoy the diversity of wildlife … that we have.”
Ken Elowe, the director of resource management at the DIF&W, said any global climate woes will have a huge effect on Maine, its communities and its wildlife.
“What you’ve heard here today is a microcosm of the importance of fish and wildlife to the state of Maine,” Elowe said. “It is part of a natural resource availability that is the state of Maine, that we have nothing else. This is what the state of Maine is.”
Elowe said natural resources represent billions of dollars in the state’s economy each year.
“It is the lifeblood. It is why people live here. It’s why people visit here. It’s why they come here to be renewed. So it’s much more important than the dollars could ever signify,” Elowe said.
Elowe said one Maine program, Beginning With Habitat, is a cooperative effort between the state and landowners that has been used as a model for national initiatives. The goal is to build a resilient landscape that can adapt to changing climates, over time, that he says are likely inevitable at some level.
Funding for national programs like Beginning With Habitat is essential, and could be funded by the legislation in question, he said.
Ruhlin said that the existing House bill, which was approved, and the Senate legislation under consideration would be consolidated after approval. U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree supported the measure. Worrying too much about potential changes to the legislation as it progresses is counterproductive, Ruhlin said.
“We have a major problem that affects not just the wildlife and the recreation, but it affects our entire planet,” Ruhlin said. “I think it’s gone beyond the point of nit-picking. [We shouldn’t say] ‘I don’t quite like this. I don’t quite like that.’ We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the needed.”