Senator Susan Collins speaks at an event in Hermon in September 2020. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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Russell Black of Wilton represents District 17 in the Maine Senate. He serves on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

Sen. Susan Collins is an environmental champion, and always has been. So, it is extremely disappointing to see a prominent environmental organization suddenly turn its back on her.

After endorsing Collins in her last two races, the League of Conservation Voters abruptly abandoned Collins, throwing its support behind her Democratic challenger. Let’s be clear: this move is all about helping Democrats take back the Senate. It isn’t about Collins’s environmental record, which is unimpeachable.

You don’t have to go back very far to find green groups singing Collins’s praises. In her 2014 race, the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Moms Clean Air Task Force all ran ads trumpeting her environmental bona fides. As recently as 2017, the League called her “an extremely important ally in the fight to protect the environment.” But in her current race the League has sided against her.

This is unfortunate. Now more than ever, we need independent voices like Collins in Washington. Replacing her with Sara Gideon would be a setback for Maine — and a setback for the environment.

There’s no comparison between the environmental records of Collins and Gideon. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Collins has delivered tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for land, water and forest conservation to Maine — funding that has supported thousands of jobs in our outdoor recreation industry. She recently secured $2 million for research on the impact of warming ocean temperatures on the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine. And she’s now working to combat the marine debris threatening our coastal communities.

Again and again, Collins has steered federal dollars to protect the natural resources that underpin Maine’s economy. By contrast, Gideon may never deliver federal money for land or forest conservation since she would start at the bottom of the ladder in the Senate, with no clout, relationships or seniority.

But Collins isn’t just a fighter for Maine; she’s a fighter for the environment in the tradition of Ed Muskie, the father of the modern environmental movement. While serving in the Senate, Muskie worked in a bipartisan manner to recast clean air and clean water as a matter of national interest. Collins has built on and protected this legacy, using her position as an independent voice in the Republican Party to defend the Environmental Protection Agency and work across party lines to advance commonsense environmental solutions.

On climate change, the most significant environmental challenge of our time, Collins has shown true leadership. She was one of the first prominent Republicans to talk about the problem, back when it was a big risk for a GOP politician to do so. She was the only Republican in either chamber who voted to protect the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants. And she is the lead Republican sponsor of several pieces of legislation to hasten the transition to a low-carbon future. She has set a powerful example for other Republicans to embrace climate action.

Despite this record, the League of Conservation Voters has chosen to endorse a Democrat with far weaker environmental credentials and no demonstrable ability to encourage Republicans to act on climate. In doing so, it has unfortunately imperiled the possibility of real climate progress.

Meaningful climate action, like any durable legislative solution, will require the support of both Republicans and Democrats. With climate threats mounting, a window for a bipartisan solution is finally opening. We need Collins in the Senate to serve as a bridge between the two parties.

After years of denying the climate problem, the Republican Party has started to respond to younger conservatives who are demanding a proactive solution. But it’s only a start. To achieve a consensus solution, we need GOP senators to persuade members of their own party that its youngest supporters want action. With her record of bipartisanship and leadership on climate, no senator is more prepared than Collins to broker a bipartisan climate breakthrough.

The League of Conservation Voters may not get it, but Mainers should understand: It’s no time to put politics before the environment, and it’s no time to replace the most environmentally minded Republican in the Senate.