For the last 10 years, Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition has identified a handful of bills to target during the upcoming legislative session. At times this has involved supporting environmental initiatives such as increasing investment in energy efficiency, which was passed in 2013. At others, it has meant defending against proposals that would weaken existing environmental regulations such as the attempted roll back last spring on rules protecting wild brook trout.
This year, six legislative priorities — all of which have bipartisan support — have been identified by the EPC, a coalition of 28 environmental, conservation and public health organizations representing more than 100,000 Mainers. Each of these initiatives seeks to reinforce the sustainability of our food supply, water resources and energy sources, and thereby protect Maine’s economy and quality of life.
One of this year’s EPC priorities is a bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, to support Maine’s local foods economy and enhance school nutrition. With no mandates or recurring costs, this proposal is a cost-effective way to create new economic opportunities, improve the health of children in Maine and permit Maine to reduce its dependence on industrial agriculture based outside the state, imports that currently constitute 90 percent of the food consumed in Maine.
Another EPC priority is protection of one of Maine’s largest food industries: shellfish. Ocean waters off the coast of Maine are becoming more acidic, causing juvenile clams to literally dissolve. In addition, initial studies indicate that juvenile lobsters develop thicker shells in response to the growing acidity, thus stunting their growth.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, would fund a study of the problem to identify solutions and develop a plan to mitigate the damage. As Dave Cousens of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association has pointed out, “We need to get on top of the issue of ocean acidification now before our kids inherit this problem and it’s too late to fix it or adapt.”
In terms of water quality, there are two EPC legislative priorities for 2014 that will help protect Maine’s rivers, lakes and groundwater. Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, has proposed an act to authorize a general fund bond of $50 million to allow investment in infrastructure will ensure an abundance of high-quality drinking water across the state and allow communities to more effectively prepare against extreme storm waters and floods while creating and preserving jobs in various sectors of the economy.
To protect water quality that is critical to our economy and quality of life, the EPC has also included among its 2014 priorities revision of the rules adopted by the Board of Environmental Protection regarding metallic mineral mining. Mining for metals in sulfide deposits creates sulfuric acid and toxic runoff that can devastate water quality and kill aquatic life. The type of mining proposed for Maine has never been operated successfully without polluting nearby waters. The risks are too high to allow out-of-state mining corporations to use Maine as an “experiment” for unproven mining techniques.
A fifth EPC priority focuses on the protection of Maine lakes, which generate at least $3.5 billion in economic activity and provide more than 52,000 jobs across the state. Maine once had one of the strongest lake protection programs in the nation; now the water quality of our lakes is deteriorating attributable in part to poor DEP oversight due to a reduction in staff, resources and programing. McCabe has proposed a bill that will strengthen the DEP’s lake protection program, enhance training for code enforcement officers, create a new certification program for landscape contractors and develop strategies to reduce runoff from roads and the application of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that are threatening the water quality of our lakes.
A final EPC priority is a bill by Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, in support of solar energy development in an effort to develop greater energy independence through a “home-grown” renewable energy. Although solar power can be produced for free, it requires upfront capital to install, which was subsidized by Maine’s small solar incentive program that has now expired. This bill would reinstate the program with potential cost-savings to Mainers and direct the Public Utilities Commission to set solar goals to recapture Maine’s leading role in this green industry.
As the facilitator of the EPC, the Maine Conservation Alliance fully endorses the adoption of these six EPC priorities for 2014. Together they would significantly reinforce the sustainability of our food, water and energy resources. I encourage readers to contact their state legislators and encourage them to support these initiatives because making the environment a priority for everyone will enhance Maine’s economy and protect our quality of life.
Linda Beck is president of the Maine Conservation Alliance executive board. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications.