AUGUSTA, Maine - Nearly two-thirds of the Maine Legislature received a grade of 75 percent or higher from one of the state's leading conservation advocacy groups. Maine Conservation Voters released its environmental scorecard today, which highlights bipartisan efforts to protect Maine's water quality and invest in clean energy technology. Of the 13 bills cited by the group, lawmakers enacted a dozen, only to lose six to vetoes from Gov. Paul LePage. Conservationists are taking to the airwaves to highlight the governor's environmental record.
By most accounts, the vast majority of Maine's 186 lawmakers have a reasonably strong, pro-environmental record. Beth Ahearn, political director for Maine Conservation Voters, measures her group's victories not only in the pro-conservation legislation that was enacted by the Legislature, but also by bills perceived as bad for the environment that didn't become law. More than 10,000 of her group's scorecards that rate lawmakers' environmental records have been mailed out to Maine voters.
"Here in Maine, a clean environment and a healthy economy go hand-in-hand," Ahearn said at an Augusta news conference today. "The scorecard tells Maine which legislators are moving Maine forward and which ones are taking us in the wrong direction."
Among the pieces of legislation supported by Republicans and Democrats, and favored by Maine Conservation Voters, were efforts to keep toxic chemicals out of household products and the rejection of metallic mining rules drafted by the LePage administration. Assistant House Democratic Leader Jeff McCabe says he's pleased that his bill to send a $10 million clean water bond to the voters this fall was approved.
"In the 126th Legislature we had great success with bond proposals to make much needed investments in Maine's clean water infrastructure," McCabe said. "I was proud to sponsor the Clean Waters and Safe Communities Act, and I was proud that it won support from a diverse coalition of lawmakers and stakeholders as well."
Republicans also took stands for the environment. GOP state Rep. Russell Black of Wilton fought hard to restrict motorized recreational gold prospecting in high-value brook trout streams. Once the bill was enacted, Black found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to oppose Republican Gov. Paul LePage. But he led the successful override vote of the governor's veto.
"I'm here today because I believe in protecting our natural resources," Black said. "We need to be good stewards of our water, wildlife, lands and air so that we can pass them on to our future generations, that we can leave them in better shape than we find them."
Maureen Drouin, the executive director of Maine Conservation Voters, said she wished more Republicans who had voted to enact pro-environmental bills were like Black, instead of caving to the influence of LePage, whom she accused of using a wrecking ball to dismantle the state's conservation policies.
"Gov. LePage has not been a good steward of our environment and Mike Michaud is the best choice, and really the only choice, to bring Maine people together again to protect our air, land and water, and the health and safety of our families," Drouin said.
While the conservation scorecard only serves to inform voters, and does not advocate for or against a candidate, the group's political arm is flexing some major muscle in this year's gubernatorial elections. This week, the Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund released an ad that highlight's Democratic candidate Mike Michaud's positive conservation record while hammering away at LePage's environmental policies that opponents say threaten the state's water quality.
"We have spent $400,000 on this ad to get it out to Maine voters, and we are committed to doing what we need to do to make sure Mike wins in November," Drouin said.
At LePage campaign headquarters, the governor's supporters argue that Drouin and others want an all-or-nothing approach to environmental issues, while LePage insists that sound environmental practices and reasonable business decision can co-exist.
Alex Willette, the governor's spokesman, says Drouin and others overlook that LePage sought the second largest environmental penalty in Maine history against Chevron for a major oil spill.
"The governor strongly believes that a clean environment is very important for our economy, for our tourism industry, for our natural resources based industries, farming, forestry and fisheries," Willette said. "And it's been a very big priority for the governor."
Maine Conservation Voters did give LePage credit for signing a wind power siting bill and a genetic modified organism seed bill, instead of letting it become law without his signature, as he did with three other pieces of pro-conservation legislation.