The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Rev. Richard Killmer, a retired Presbyterian minister, lives in Yarmouth.
The people of Maine have an opportunity to protect their rights to a clean and healthy environment. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the Maine Legislature recently voted in favor of an amendment to the Maine State Constitution. It says the following:
“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.”
Much of the environmental degradation which exists in this world, hurts people. This proposed amendment to the Maine constitution, the Pine Tree Amendment, would guarantee that people have the right to clean air, water and a healthy environment, just like they have other rights including the right to free speech, to assembly, to possess firearms and to worship as they choose. The amendment prohibits the state from infringing on the rights of the people of Maine to have “a clean and healthy environment.”
Under this proposed amendment, in order to guarantee those rights to all people in the state, the state of Maine would have to conserve, protect and maintain the natural resources of the state.
The Amendment has now been sent to both the Maine Senate and the House of Representatives where it needs to pass with a two-thirds majority in both chambers. It would then go to the people for a vote in November. If it passes, it is added to the state constitution.
There are two states that have a similar amendment: Pennsylvania and Montana. In Pennsylvania, the gas industry had convinced the state legislature that fracking should be exempt from local zoning ordinances, and allowed to locate nearly anywhere. In 2013 the Delaware River Keeper’s Network sued the state for allowing this, based on their environmental rights enacted in the state constitution in 1971. They won. As a result, local zoning ordinances prohibiting fracking were reinstated.
The Pine Tree Amendment would accomplish several things:
First, it will give the people of Maine a leg-up to protect the beautiful resources of our state. The amendment gives the people of Maine a way to protect its natural resources and grow our economy. Maine’s identity and economy are based — more than ever before — on its natural assets. Think about it: agriculture, forestry and fishing are its traditional industries, but now it has cruise ships, outdoor recreation of all kinds, hospitality, tourism and travel. New residents are moving to Maine because of its clean air, clean water and healthy environment.
Second, The Pine Tree Amendment makes it easier to combat environmental degradation. Several years ago, Fred Stone, who lives on land that has been in his family for 100 years in southern Maine, discovered PFAS, a family of toxic chemicals, on his farm. The PFAS was in the sludge used to fertilize his fields. The PFAS entered his well water, which his cows drank, and contaminated their milk. A dairy that Stone sold to stopped buying his milk. The Pine Tree Amendment would have made it easier to seek compensation and justice.
Third, the Pine Tree Amendment would provide a navigational aid to policy makers to guide the creation of legislation which guarantee our environmental rights. In 2009 a bill passed the state legislature, called the Quality of Place, which was designed to build Maine’s economy based on Maine’s strengths. The legislation allowed the state to prioritize funding for projects that strengthened Maine’s natural assets.
But the next governor repealed the legislation in 2011. So, the lesson is that laws are not permanent. The Pine Tree Amendment helps sustain the state’s environmental laws.
I hope that the amendment passes in Maine. It would certainly be a helpful tool in protecting God’s world.