Maine's environmental activists believe they will be forced to "play defense" next year, as Governor Paul LePage attempts to dismantle the Renewable Portfolio Standards Law and international oil barons consider routing toxic tar sands through the state.
At a public discussion organized by Environment Maine, a statewide citizen-advocacy organization, outgoing state senator Phil Bartlett (D-Gorham) was joined by regional US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Curt Spalding, Portland Water District Trustee Gary Libby, and Stephen Taylor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, which works to get toxic chemicals out of everyday products. Each of them outlined main concerns for the coming year.
For example, while Spalding acknowledged that improving air quality was "where we did the most and gained the most" during President Barack Obama's first term ("the air in Maine is cleaner than it's been in years and years," he said), water quality will be a second-term priority. The EPA will also continue to crack down on mercury and global-warming pollution from power plants.
Meanwhile, Libby explained that the Portland Water District, which provides water and wastewater services to nearly 200,000 people in Greater Portland, is extending its scope to include not only protection of the Sebago Lake shoreline, but the entire watershed, which stretches 50 miles from Bethel to Standish and covers parts of 24 towns. The PWD plans to pursue conservation easements, in partnership with other non-profits and landowners, in the hopes of limiting future development throughout the watershed. The land surrounding the Crooked River, Sebago's primary tributary, is the focus of the effort right now.
The Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, which currently transports oil from South Portland to Canada, crosses the Crooked River in six places, Libby pointed out — making the potential reversal of that pipeline's flow, to accommodate Canadian tar sands oil, very troubling. Unfortunately, Libby acknowledged that while such conservation easements would generally help limit water pollution, they would probably not be enough to stop the still-murky tar sands proposal (see "Tar Sands Disaster?" by Deirdre Fulton, August 17).
Environment Maine director Emily Figdor assured the anxious audience, many of whom expressed worry about tar sands, that her organization and several others are pursuing every path of tar-sands opposition, while encouraging renewable energy development as an alternative.
It's too bad, then, that LePage has come out against Maine's renewable-energy requirements, known as the Renewable Portfolio Standards, which call for about one-third of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources (including wind, waste-to-energy, and biomass). The governor has called for the elimination of Maine's standards, which he claims stifles business by making electricity more expensive.
But Bartlett, who has been active on energy issues during his time in the legislature, offered a different take. Alternative energy requirements "make sure that this industry has the chance to grow and prosper," he said, noting recent developments in offshore-wind and tidal-power generation. Rather than engage in a futile attempt to lower energy prices, he continued, Maine should continue to promote and expand its energy efficiency programs.
Perhaps the most optimistic was Taylor, who is confident that Maine will continue to phase out bisphenol-A from baby and toddler foods as well as canned foods. By leading the charge, Taylor said, Mainers could help convince Congress to revise the severely out-of-date federal Safe Chemicals Act.