When I was a little girl, my parents would share stories about their childhoods in Winslow. My mom told me about recesses in the schoolyard obscured in orange-yellow clouds of toxic smog, the noxious result of the papermaking process taking place at the Scott Paper Mill. In high school, my father and his buddies would spend lazy afternoons fishing in the Sebasticook River, often wading into the waist-deep water in search of more abundant quarry. He recalled the time he waded out of the water with toilet paper streaming from his legs. It utterly disgusted him, and he gave up fishing.
I also grew up in Winslow, a generation later. And the schoolyard I played in at recess was the very same spot where my mother and her classmates endured the sulphur stench and toxic air. Yet, when I was there, the air was clear. We often walked to the banks of the Sebasticook River where my father encountered waste years before. Yet, when we searched for wild animals there, with tackle boxes and fishing poles in hand, there was no sewage. Only the sun glinting off the water.
The reason for this transformation is quite simple: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The result of a bipartisan effort headed by Republican President Richard Nixon, the agency was founded in 1970 to protect human health and the environment for the good of current and future citizens. Since that fateful beginning, the Environmental Protection Agency has fundamentally altered public health and elevated environmental concerns as steward of our natural resources.
Today, we stand at another great crossroads of public health and environmental emergency. The issue is climate change. Presently, the United States is positioned as a global leader in the drive to limit its disastrous impacts. Under the Trump administration, that leadership role is in jeopardy.
Scott Pruitt has spent much of his time as Oklahoma attorney general battling the Environmental Protection Agency, the very agency he has been nominated to lead. This is the agency that fights to ensure that our air, water, and soil are safe so that we may all enjoy our natural resources. Pruitt has fought initiatives on clean energy, and he has stated publicly that he does not consider the issue of climate change “ settled.” When it comes to public health and the environment, he has obstructed progress at every available opportunity. To my eyes, that is the very antithesis of an Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s job description.
As citizens of a society with relatively clean air and waterways that support life and provides sustenance to man and beast alike, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In Maine, a wilderness wonderland, the transformation is acute. The crown jewel of the Northeast has regained much of its luster, which was made possible by the laws and regulations that curbed the harmful impacts of rampant, unchecked pollution.
There is no question that Pruitt is wrong for Maine. Our precious state is among the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. The Gulf of Maine is warming at an alarming rate, threatening our fishing heritage and livelihoods. Prevailing winds quite literally carry toxins and pollutants to poison our air. Toxins belching from plants in the Midwest have far greater impact to us in Maine than anywhere else in the country.
I urge Sen. Susan Collins to vote on behalf of all Mainers — especially the youngest generation, who have no voice in these matters and who will inherit the Maine we leave for them — and reject Pruitt’s nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency. We cannot afford to take a step backward and return to the poisoned air and water of the past. We cannot afford to ignore a global climate crisis of greatest and most immediate impact to our beloved state. The future of Maine depends on it.
Katie Magoun is a passionate advocate for the environment and enjoys exploring Maine with her young family. She works for L.L.Bean and volunteers with the Sierra Club of Maine. She lives in Cumberland.