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Jason Anthony of Bristol writes Field Guide to the Anthropocene and was the 2014 Literary Fellow for Maine.
If you ask your friends, neighbors, or any Maine resident whether they think they have a basic right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment, I think most would say they did. Certainly we all agree that the state shouldn’t have the power to take away our access to the natural beauty of Maine. Whether we’re moose hunting off the Realty Road, fishing Moosehead Lake, farming in Unity, paddling the Machias River, lobstering in Penobscot Bay, or drinking tap water in Portland, Mainers have an expectation that our right to a healthy environment is guaranteed, and will be protected for our children and grandchildren.
But we do not have that right. Not yet. Without the Pine Tree Amendment (LD 489), there will be no guarantee. We enjoy the woods and waters of Maine because they’ve been protected by our shared concern and by a patchwork of environmental legislation that is subject to the whims of state funding and enforcement.
We only need to look at the recent news of PFAS contamination in Maine farms. Right now, according to a recent BDN article, there are Maine farm families with higher levels of PFAS (“forever chemicals” linked to cancer and many other health problems) in their blood than are found in workers at chemical manufacturing plants. As one Maine farmer said, “It’s not a political issue. It’s health. Nobody wants their kids to be drinking this kind of water.”
The Pine Tree Amendment is a bipartisan solution to protect future Maine generations. The Maine economy, from fishing and hunting to tourism, relies on a healthy environment. Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, the sponsor of the Pine Tree Amendment, put it this way: “Maine’s healthy environment is the cornerstone of our state’s heritage. It supports both our economy and our way of life.”
Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, a Pine Tree Amendment co-sponsor, said in an interview that the amendment is about setting limits on government action: “This will protect Mainers from overreach by government in a way that’s injurious to environmental health and our enjoyment of all the splendors that Maine has to offer.”
A healthy Maine environment is essential for Maine business. As the world changes, and as Maine changes, we need a constitutional guardrail to ensure the state government considers the future of business and the rights of citizens as it decides whether to issue permits that may sacrifice the quality of our air, water, food, and farms.
Two states, Pennsylvania and Montana, have had similar constitutional amendments for 50 years. They’ve been used only in cases where the state had issued permits or passed laws that amounted to serious violations of the public trust. (In Pennsylvania, for example, the state tried to ban towns from putting limits on fracking.) The Pine Tree Amendment isn’t going to create a flurry of lawsuits. As Bennett said, “It prohibits individual action against private parties in Maine. It doesn’t involve that. It involves holding the government accountable and making sure the government in its role protects Maine citizens.”
In a matter of days, the Pine Tree Amendment will come up for a vote in both chambers of the Legislature. It passed out of committee with strong bipartisan support, and deserves the same in the full Legislature. If passed, it will go out for voter approval next November. It’s time Maine residents had a chance to put into law what we have all long believed to be true: We have a right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment.
Please visit the Pine Tree Amendment site and sign the sector letters that describe how you work or recreate in Maine’s woods and waters. Better yet, call or write your senators and representatives now to encourage a yes vote on LD 489. Help them imagine a future in which our right to a healthy environment is guaranteed for future generations.