Last month, the planet passed an unfortunate milestone. The Mauna Loa Observatory recorded for the first time a reading of more than 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide hasn’t been at this level for millions of years. As a result, the global average temperature is now higher than it has been for most of the last 11,300 years. The effects of the heat-trapping blanket over our atmosphere are already marked in Maine and beyond.
Yet, the Trump administration is pushing to roll back environmental protections. Its budget would severely cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and staffing as well as more than 50 programs that protect our nation’s air, water, land and people. Equally dangerous is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s determination to eliminate federal environmental safeguards and attack the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 32 percent by 2030.
This slash and burn treatment of the agency will have a devastating effect on Maine, where, as U.S. Sen. Susan Collins often notes, “the economy is the environment, and the environment is the economy.”
Our state’s environment depends on a close collaboration between the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, the department received more than $11 million from the Environmental Protection Agency, which paid for nearly 100 staff members and supported critical programs, including funding for the cleanup of brownfields and Superfund waste sites, the nonpoint source pollution program that helps protect Maine’s lakes, the Maine Healthy Beach Program and home radon and lead awareness.
The Trump administration’s plan to slash the Environmental Protection Agency will make it nearly impossible for the Department of Environmental Protection on its own to keep these programs performing well — if at all. Contaminated sites will sit empty, rather than being redeveloped to spur economic growth; we’ll see more air pollution, more runoff contaminating our waters; and more Mainers will get sick.
With Maine’s economy is so closely tied to healthy natural resources, these cuts also will be a blow to the state’s economy. Maine’s 6,000 lakes bring in nearly $3.5 billion per year and sustain about 52,000 jobs. Maine’s beaches annually attract 12 million visitors, who contribute more than $1.6 billion to the state’s economy. Maine’s shellfish industry, which depends on clean water, employs more than 1,500 people, contributing more than $56 million annually to Maine’s economy.
Less visible but no less distressing are the emissions that arrive here with prevailing winds from the other states with coal-burning power plants. Our representatives in Congress have fought long and hard over decades for federal policies to protect Mainers from those toxic winds. Those policies are now under fire.
Maine loses with cuts to climate change initiatives, as well. The sea surface temperature in the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. Without the insights of climate research, we are left blind to the changes that accompany sea level rise and warming waters and how they will affect the state’s economy and coastline.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that U.S. Sens. Collins and Angus King, along with U.S Rep. Chellie Pingree have taken a stand for Maine’s future by opposing the proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget. Collins has said “the EPA plays a vital role in implementing and enforcing landmark laws that protect not only our environment but also public health, ” and she is concerned these cuts “would interfere with the EPA’s ability to protect the quality of our water and of our air in the state of Maine.” King referred to the cuts as “deeply disturbing,” while Pingree has rightly pointed out that weak environmental protections will not just degrade the environment but will also threaten the state’s mainstay industries, including fisheries and tourism.
They understand this is an issue that touches nearly every facet of our lives — from national security to public health to our economy and livelihoods.
While the position of U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is less clear, we hope he will join the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation by defending the Environmental Protection Agency and its role in protecting Maine’s environment.
Sharon S. Tisher is a lecturer in the School of Economics and the Honors College at the University of Maine in Orono. Harold W. Borns Jr. is a glacial and Ice Age geologist, professor emeritus of the Climate Change Institute and the School of Earth and Climate Sciences, and he is the founder of the Climate Change Institute at UMaine.