Environment Maine, an up-and-coming activist group based in Portland — another example of the broadening of the state's environmental movement — has raised the alarm about LDs 1187 and 1262, which are being pushed by some businesses. They ask the public to finance a natural-gas pipeline from the shale formations of the Mid-Atlantic states that produce gas using controversial "fracking" techniques.
Last year the Legislature allowed the Norridgewock private landfill to expand. This year Hillary Lister, the state's tireless anti-waste warrior, is pushing for LD 1363, which puts a one-year moratorium on landfill expansion. Its prospects appear good, though she worries about what the sizable lobbying effort mounted by the waste industry may engender in other legislation.
SIDEBAR: Finding an economic argument
• A big contribution of the new people in the environment movement is their talk about the need for economic alternatives to the big threats. In the history of Maine environmentalism, this is an uncommon conversation — as a rule, the fight has been reactive.
The discussion has arisen because almost all development plans rely on a single argument: jobs — a forceful one in a poor state.
To be sure, environmentalists have long spoken about how Maine's tourism industry will be protected by preservation of the environment — an argument freshly made by Thanks But No Tank. And they propose economic alternatives such as less-environmentally-damaging energy sources —decentralized solar, wind, tidal, and small hydro —as a counter to nuclear, coal, oil, and giant dams.
Those suggestions, however, are neither comprehensive responses to Maine's general lack of good jobs nor specific alternatives to many job-promising industrial proposals.
But now Chris Buchanan, the statewide coordinator of Stop the East-West Corridor, is promoting local cooperatives, putting "workers and the environment first rather than the bottom line." She cites historical models — Franklin D. Roosevelt's rural electrical cooperatives created in the Great Depression — as well as current ones — the ubiquitous credit unions; Fedco, the Maine garden-supply co-op; and, in Spain, the Mondragon corporation, a co-op federation that has been a mainstay, she says, of that country's economy throughout its current crisis.
Recently, at an anti-East-West-corridor meeting that saw 60 people attend in the tiny village of Parkman, in Piscataquis County, the cooperatives idea was a central topic and, she and others say, was well received. This type of business "does well because workers are happy and motivated," Buchanan says. Usually, workers own the cooperatives.
The economic-alternatives conversation is spreading. Charles Fitzgerald, a successful businessman, talks about local, "agrarian" economic development. He mentions small farmers and a cheese-maker in his area.
Still, there's no real economic plan articulated by the anti-highway folk — or by others in the grass roots. "Nothing concrete yet," Jim Freeman says. Buchanan admits the cooperative idea requires a lot of public education.
Especially, there's no alternative to corporate plans for Maine's vast forest, its largest resource, which figures in many environmental battles and is owned by large, distant corporations — increasingly, by Wall Street investment firms with a hunger for immediate profits.
The last time Maine environmentalists took a big step toward an economic alternative for the forest was the Ban Clearcutting citizen-initiated referendum campaign of the 1990s, which Jonathan Carter directed. If industrial clearcutting were banned, labor-intensive forestry would have to be practiced.