Sue Inches

Richard Killmer

Nothing is more fundamental to our health, our future and our self-determination than clean water, clean air and a healthy environment.

Right now, we rely on federal and state laws to protect us by safeguarding natural resources. But laws can be changed, so this protection is not guaranteed. We need a constitutional amendment to provide guidance to our governing bodies and ensure that our environmental rights and our children’s are permanent.

The Pine Tree Amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that would add citizen rights to clean air, clean water and a healthy environment to our state constitution. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature recently passed the Pine Tree Amendment (LD 489). The vote now needs a two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House in order to put it on the ballot as a citizen referendum in November. If it passes then, it is added to the state constitution.

Two states, Montana and Pennsylvania, have similar amendments. In Pennsylvania, the gas industry convinced the state legislature that fracking should be exempt from local zoning ordinances, and allowed to locate anywhere. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network sued the state for allowing this, based on the constitutional right of Pennsylvania residents to a healthy environment. They won. As a result, local zoning ordinances prohibiting fracking in neighborhoods, parks and school yards were reinstated.

In Montana, a proposed gold mining operation would have released millions of gallons of toxic effluent into the pristine Blackfoot River. Because Montanans have a constitutional right to clean air and clean water, citizen advocates were able to halt this project.

The Pine Tree Amendment would accomplish several important things.

First, it will give the people of Maine a leg-up to protect the beautiful resources of our state. It would give us a way to protect our state’s 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. His family farm had been in business for generations and now is shut down by the chemical contamination. If the Pine Tree Amendment becomes law it would assure that he can receive compensation and justice.

Third, the Pine Tree Amendment would provide a navigational aid to policy makers to guide legislation. It would put citizen environmental rights front and center. 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 Legislature and governor repealed the law in 2011. The lesson here is that laws are not permanent. The Pine Tree Amendment would provide a permanent backstop to sustain the state’s environmental laws.

If the Pine Tree Amendment passes, we’ll be sending a message to the world that a clean and healthy environment is our identity and our priority — for the long term. It would protect investments in business and real estate by ensuring that the environment will remain healthy and clean. It would protect the health of our children and grandchildren, and ensure that no Legislature, governor or law can take their fundamental environmental rights away.

We urge you to contact your state senator and state representative today and ask them to support L.D. 489. A vote in support of L.D. 489 is a vote for Maine’s clean environment, clean economy and our prosperous future.

Sue Inches is an author, educator and environmental advocate who lives in North Yarmouth. Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister living in Yarmouth.


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