Illustration TJ Kelley III
Maine's cherished environment may be threatened as never before by the gargantuan forces of economic globalization. In reaction, the state's environmental movement is coalescing into a force stronger than ever. There are new players in the game — including Occupy — augmenting the old guard.
Not surprising for a state that sticks up into Canada, several big threats have Canadian connections:
• a proposed east-west superhighway and utility corridor cutting across Maine's middle from Quebec to New Brunswick;
• a proposal by a giant Canadian energy corporation, J.D. Irving, to dig a big open-pit mine for gold, silver, and copper at Bald Mountain in the heart of the fabled North Woods — allowed by a loosening of mining regulations rammed through the previous Legislature;
• the possibility that highly toxic Canadian tar-sands crude oil could be pumped through an existing pipeline from Montreal across numerous Maine (and New Hampshire, Vermont, and Quebec) towns to Portland Harbor to be loaded into tankers.
"Maine is in the way," is how Jym St. Pierre, the longtime activist with the group Restore: The North Woods, describes the challenge to the state's environment and environmentalists.
"An unabashed corporate takeover" is the way Jim Freeman, veteran Earth Firster and an Occupy organizer, describes the danger.
Big corporations, "the true eco-terrorists," says Jonathan Carter, former Green Party candidate for governor, have become "more ferocious."
In response to the challenges, "there's certainly a burst of activity," St. Pierre says. In particular, the environmental cause at the grass roots has been energized and synergized by the Occupy movement.
At recent, crowded legislative hearings on environmental bills — where the eco-friendly folk vastly outnumbered the corporate lobbyists — Occupy activists were numerous. In new groups that have sprung up to meet the specific new threats, including opponents to the East-West Highway and the tar-sands oil, Occupiers are well represented.
Occupy "woke up a lot of people. It was a shot in the arm" to various causes, Freeman says. "The Occupy movement normalized protest," says Lew Kingsbury, an Occupy Augusta organizer now active with several of the causes.
There are signs, too, that the environmental movement has recently broadened far beyond the stereotypical coastal retired person, Portland yuppie, or back-to-the-land hippie.
Charles Fitzgerald, of Atkinson, a former Green Party congressional candidate, says, "One of the greatest pieces of good luck of my lifetime" — he's 79 — is to participate in the East-West Highway opposition.
"It's not just fringe people," he says, but the "smart and focused" locals who have resided in his part of pastoral central Maine, the Piscataquis Valley, for many years — a "broad spectrum" including truck drivers, woodsmen, and farmers.
"Salt of the earth" folks, Freeman says, have joined three new grass-roots organizations: the Stop the East-West Corridor coalition; 350 Maine, an anti-fossil-fuel group opposed to the Portland-Montreal Pipe Line corporation's use of tar-sands oil from Alberta; and Thanks But No Tank, the Searsport-based group that recently succeeded in blocking a 14-story-high liquid-propane tank from being constructed in that coastal community (the group is sticking around to deal with other possible industrial threats).