If there is such a thing as an “establishment” environmental advocate, the Natural Resources Council of Maine would qualify. This description is not meant to insinuate anything negative; rather, it aims to portray the organization’s stability, strong influence and broad mission.

Over the past 50 years, the NRCM has developed into as potent an interest group as there is in Maine; maybe, in some opinions, the most powerful. Its work has brought environmental concerns into equality with traditional power brokers, which has struck important balances in public policy.

It is not a one-trick advocate. The NRCM engages a spectrum of issues, from pollution to power, alewives to advertising, mountaintops to mercury, as an  arbiter and evaluator of environmental protection in Maine.

Support or opposition from NRCM has become, in a testimony to its influence, a deal-breaker for those seeking to shape public policy. Just ask folks such as Harley Lee, whose plans for Redington and Black Nubble experienced both sides of NRCM sentiment.

With this great power, though, comes great responsibility, and it’s here NRCM — in our opinion — has become a shining example. As advocates, they have strong positions and opinions, but are also willing to participate in the public process, negotiate with opponents to seek consensus, not surrender.

This can stand in contrast to other environmental groups in Maine, which we’ve accused of lacking the big-picture sensibilities that NRCM displays. Whatever one’s personal opinion of the NRCM, it should never be regarded as failing to see the forest for the trees.

Maine needs a vigorous NRCM to speak for the state’s natural resources, the preservation and conservation of which are critical to Maine’s future successes and its legacy. Decisions or developments that may affect this legacy must not be considered lightly, which the NRCM rarely allows to happen.

Its stalwart opposition to Plum Creek’s plans for the North Woods is emblematic of this. Altering the character of Maine’s symbolic wilderness demanded the eyes of powerful skeptics, to ensure the resource is protected.

NRCM’s own legacy is impressive — over its history, most of its victories have made Maine a better place: bottle return, billboard prohibitions, trail-blazing laws regulating disposal of light bulbs and electronic waste, watershed defense (including serious attention to the Androscoggin) among them.

Do we agree with everything the NRCM has done? No, and precious few likely do. Yet anyone who argues that Maine would be better served without this influential and potent advocate for its environment and natural resources is wrong.

For 50 years, the NRCM has worked diligently to make environmental protection a priority for Maine people and policymakers. It has done so with power and vision, its advocates rolling up their collective sleeves to work within the system to further their mission.

The first half-century was spent making NRCM into an establishment in Maine. If it continues, in five decades we’ll probably be hailing it as an institution.

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