Credit: George Danby

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Ernie Hilton is an attorney in Madison and a past member and chair of the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.

An amendment to the Maine constitution that would affirm and protect our right to a clean and healthy environment is under discussion in the Legislature. Briefly, LD 489, the Pine Tree Amendment, would help assure longer-term thinking by initiating a process to amend the Maine constitution to provide that the state ”shall conserve” our natural resources including air, water, land and ecosystems “for the benefit of all people,” including future generations. If passed by the Legislature, the amendment would be up for a general election referendum vote in the fall of 2022. As might be imagined, opposition is developing to what would seem fairly straightforward.


While I grew up on a farm here in Starks, where my family has been for close to 250 years, I worked for a number of years in underground coal mines and later as a mining engineer primarily in Appalachian coal country. I’ve seen the multi-decade, multi-generational economic devastation from misguided, short-sighted regulatory practices — acid mine drainage, mountains torn apart, water resources devastated, economic prospects diminished, health compromised. We’ve seen much the same here in Maine with toxic waste issues, including from past efforts at mining, and now, of course, the intractable problem of PFAS contamination of our soil, water and wildlife.

My wife and I were approached about spreading sludge on our farm land — all approved by regulators. And believe me, as farmers, free nutrients were a very inviting prospect. Fortunately we didn’t. But now, nationwide, we’re facing a long term price tag in the billions of dollars as we discover the ubiquity of PFAS toxins throughout our lives.

Having kicked around for 70 years, I’ve started seeing further down the road. As an attorney and an engineer here in Maine, as a past member and chair of the Board of Environmental Protection, I’ve observed the results of past poorly visioned projects from a number of different perspectives. This poverty of vision usually arises out of a lack of long-term thinking. It arises out of a narrow focus on short-term economics.  

The Pine Tree Amendment would help assure longer-term thinking. It would assure the burden of proof of acceptability of a project started and remained on the applicant, would assure the burden remained appropriately significant, and would help blunt the political pressure that occasionally thwarts effective decision making.    

I’m aware of concerns over the amendment becoming a source of litigation. But as an attorney, I wonder whether opponents aren’t confusing or conflating real fact finding and discussion about the merits of a project and calling it litigation. As we often determine afterwards, the fact a project would have been made subject to greater scrutiny would have been a good thing.