As we celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, Mainers should be proud of our accomplishments since its first observance in 1970. U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine was a driving force behind the 1970 Clean Air Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act. Since that time, a wide range of actions have been taken nationally and in Maine to maintain and improve the very special environment that Mainers enjoy. Our environment is a key factor in maintaining and improving the Maine economy. It is a major reason why so many Mainers want to remain in the state and why others move here and establish businesses.
In 1987, the Maine Office of Tourism adopted the slogan “Maine — The Way Life Should Be.” Like most Maine residents, I have always identified with this sentiment, and when I see the sign when returning to Maine I am very grateful to live here. This phrase can be interpreted in many ways, but to me it indicates that we value our environment, the quality of our work and our lives. We should sell Maine not only as a great place to visit but also as a place to live and to have a business. Indirectly, the phrase also suggests that we take pride in the products we produce.
As our leaders strive to attract new businesses to the state and to support and expand existing ones, they should keep our tourism trademark in mind. What attracts tourists also attracts businesses. One factor businesses usually consider is the quality of life for themselves and their employees. Maine has a great deal to offer for day-to-day life and recreation. Since 1970, there has been much progress in protecting our natural areas. Local governments and land trusts have created trail systems that have greatly expanded opportunities for recreation within a short distance of one’s home. These — plus our national park, national monument and local and state parks — add to Maine’s quality of life and help to attract new residents.
Along with our quality of life, Maine also is noted for the quality of the products we produce. Large and small businesses have relied on our image and reputation for quality in selling their products. Part of this image depends on maintaining the quality of our environment. Clean air and clean water are major factors, and we need to follow in the footsteps of Muskie in giving clean air and water a top priority in all development activities. Voters also need to consider this when electing state legislators and our governor.
We should keep in mind that efforts to reduce pollution often save money and can increase employment. This can certainly be the case with electricity. Investments in improving efficiency of use can reduce costs and create jobs. It is more expensive to build a coal-fired power plant than natural gas plants, solar projects or wind farms, and new coal-fired plants are no longer being built. And studies have shown that photovoltaic panels can be used to supply part of our electricity at a competitive cost while creating high quality jobs within the state.
Our environment also is affected by forces outside of our state. Power plants and factories upwind from Maine release sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury that cause the formation of ozone and dangerous small particles in our air. Mercury can accumulate in our soil and waters limiting the number of freshwater fish we can safely eat. Globally, the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change. The resulting warming of the Gulf of Maine is a severe threat to our lobster industry.
To protect the Maine environment, all four of our representatives in Congress should be strong advocates for legislation that combats air pollution and climate change. As was the case with Muskie, they should develop and propose needed legislation and work to convince their colleagues to pass it. We need to protect the progress that we have made. The elimination of fossil fuels should be at the top of the agenda.
John Tjepkema is a professor emeritus in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine in Orono.