Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Luki Hewitt lives in Penobscot and is a member of the Narramissic Valley Friends in Orland. This column was submitted on behalf of the Narramissic Valley Friends, Quakers.

People come to Maine because of its beautiful outdoors. Most of us live in Maine for the same reason. We now have the opportunity to increase the protection of the state’s environment.

In January, the Maine Legislature will again consider the proposed Maine Pine Tree Amendment. LD 489, Section 25, reads “Environment Rights. The people of the State have the right to a clean and healthy environment and to the preservation of the natural, cultural and healthful qualities of the environment. The State may not infringe upon these rights. The State shall conserve, protect and maintain the State’s natural resources, including, but not limited to, its air, water, land and ecosystems for the benefit of all the people, including generations yet to come.” 

Existing laws, though well intentioned, have not effectively reduced water, land and air pollution. Laws set standards and create a permit process with which industries must comply. However, companies with enough legal clout and money can find loopholes in the law or a weak person in the link to help them obtain their objectives despite the intention of the law.

We know that some effort has been made through our state and federal governments, and there has been some progress. The Clean Air Act became federal law in 1970. It was amended in 1977 and 1990. The Clean Water Act became federal Law in 1948 and was then amended in 1972. Unfortunately, because of party goals and legal interpretations, both acts have been reinterpreted year after year, and altered by administration after administration nationwide. The consequence has been a ping pong game with the environment where no one wins and everyone loses. 

We are so fortunate to live in a state that has more than 6,000 lakes and 41,000 miles of rivers and streams. It is vital that we protect these waters for our health, recreation, nature’s health and our economy. Yes, the salmon have returned but the following grades given by American Society of Civil Engineers are not very encouraging. In Maine, the drinking water went from a C-plus in 2016 to a C in 2020, and wastewater for both years was rated a D-plus. The report went on to say that solid wastes for both years were given a C-minus and hazardous wastes went from C-minus in 2016 to D-plus in 2020. Where is the progress over the years of these laws?

According to the World Health Organization, every year there are 7 million deaths because of air pollution. According to a United Nations report, 40 percent of the world will not have access to fresh water by 2030. The U.N. also states that polluted environments kill 1.7 million children a year.

We have all heard the figures, and most of us feel helpless to do anything about it. It is overwhelming. We are tempted to block out the human casualty, the destruction of our natural world and become numb to the numbers. 

In Maine, much of our air pollution floats up on the prevailing winds from other states. We have become the tailpipe of the Northeast as refineries pump their emissions into the atmosphere in other states. The American Lung Association measures air quality by ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot). Bangor still rates as one of the cleanest cities in the country and the Portland/Lewiston area ranks in the top 100 of the most polluted cities in ozone. Air quality is a major factor in premature deaths, asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease to name a few. 

Fortunately, some states are taking action. Montana, and Pennsylvania have had green amendments in their constitutions since the early 1970s. On Nov. 2, the voters of New York approved adding a green amendment to their Constitution. Ten other states have already introduced green amendment proposals, and five other states have expressed interest in developing their own proposals. The Rockefeller Institute of Government webpage lists these states. It is now our turn. 

By adding the protection of the environment to our state Constitution, we raise it as a fundamental value, a right for all of Mainers. Adopting this amendment, we will no longer depend on someone else to fix the problem. We will no longer feel powerless. We will raise the bar for businesses, but we will attract businesses that care about living in a clean environment and are proud to be part of creating a healthy future for our children and grandchildren. We will be protecting our state for future generations and setting an example for other states. 

Talk with your legislators. Support the Pine Tree Amendment! After all, the winds and the waters are shared by all living creatures. For more information, go to pinetreeamendment.org.