It’s great to know that so many of our elected officials take the conservation of Maine’s environment to heart. Environmental protections are just good common sense — things that Maine people can agree on regardless of political party.
The beauty of Maine’s natural treasures is obvious to anyone who is lucky enough to live, work or vacation in our great state. Maine people are rightfully proud of our state’s lakes and streams, mountains, forests and coast — and the wildlife that inhabit these special places. These natural resources play a fundamental role in our heritage as Mainers, our economy and our well-being.
But policies of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration are putting our natural resources and traditional sporting activates at risk. A new investigative report by the Natural Resources Council of Maine has found that his administration’s policies are hurting the state’s lake protection efforts.
The report raises questions about whether the state Department of Environmental protection can protect Maine lakes as it is supposed to under law. Under the LePage administration, lake protection resources have been slashed, most outreach efforts have been halted and the free flow of information has been stymied.
Funding for lake protection staff and resources is now down to its lowest levels in decades. A program to help waterfront property owners protect water quality was dumped. Educational and technical assistance efforts have plummeted. Communication between DEP staff and their peers has been hindered. A large number of valuable public documents have been dumped from the department website. And the list goes on.
These developments are taking place at a terrible time. The water quality of our lakes is deteriorating, according to research from the University of Maine. The results could be devastating. Lakes generate an estimated $3.5 billion in annual economic activity and 52,000 jobs depend on them.
We’re lucky to have more than 6,000 lakes in our state. I know firsthand the benefits of Maine lakes and rivers. I see the economic drivers they are around the state; swimming, boating, fishing, hunting and more. I have worked on several lakes in Somerset County and know communities depend on the economy based on our vast surface water. I have seen how lakes programs have improved property values, addressed erosion, educated people and made our state more attractive.
Now, multiply that several thousand times to get a sense of the impact of lakes across Maine.
Many families, including my own, cherish our traditions of fishing and paddling in Maine. Just as these activities rely on the health of our natural resources, so do the livelihoods of those who work in traditional industries like fishing and farming. And we all deserve to drink clean water and breathe clean air.
These are all part of Maine’s great brand — one that is known throughout the world. Our natural resources deserve our steadfast stewardship so future generations will also enjoy and benefit from them.
The health of our environment and natural resources is vital to our prosperity as Mainers. Outdoor recreation is just one example of that in our state economy. In Maine, this area supports 65,000 jobs and is responsible for generating each year $5.2 billion in consumer spending, $1.5 billion in wages and salaries and $382 million in state tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
This NRCM report on lakes is just the latest example of how LePage administration policies are undercutting protections of our natural resources and public health. Already from this administration, we’ve seen efforts to weaken anti-smog protections, missed federal deadlines for dam licensing related to water quality and a veto of a measure to protect pregnant women and children from toxic chemicals.
The Legislature will work very hard to hold the DEP accountable and reverse the policies that are damaging Maine’s lakes and endangering their future. Our valuable natural resources and our people deserve no less.
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is the assistant House majority leader and the former executive director of the Somerset County Soil and Water District.