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“Shocked” “Stunned” - Outcry Grows Over Gov's “Assault” on Environment

January 31, 2011

AUGUSTA, Maine - Groups backing protection of Maine's natural resources are reeling from Gov. Paul LePage's proposal to roll back 36 environmental rules and regulations and open 10 million acres of northern forestland to development.

His announcement, coming shortly after a roundtable where advocates encouraged him not to weaken the state's environmental protections, "shocked and stunned" conservationists. Lisa Pohlman, deputy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says that organization is in the early stages of mobilizing.

"Basically, we're just trying to understand and get the word out about what a huge assault this is on Maine's environment."

Reaction from business leaders to LePage's plan has been generally favorable. Hearings on regulatory reform are being held around the state through mid-February, and environmentalists say that's where their response will initially be aired. They're predicting a long fight.

Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, says a lot of Maine residents are concerned that their new governor is not looking at the environment as an asset that needs protection.

"I think a lot of people would agree that there's room for improvement in the state, but this seems like a really rash way to go about approaching it."

LePage says job creation and investment opportunities are being lost because there isn't a fair balance between economic interests and the need to protect the environment. Pohlman disagrees.

"We know how much the Maine people care about Maine's environment. It is one of the most important values that we all hold together. And to think that somehow reducing protections on the environment is going to help Maine's business climate is - it's an erroneous set of thinking."

Hudson is worried about the impact on what she calls Maine's "brand."

"We know that tourism is terrifically important. We are very proud of the rivers, the mountains, the coastline, and we know that brings thousands and thousands of people to the state. And we really don't want to risk that by putting ourselves out there as not valuing these things."

Among LePage's proposals are repeal of laws that require manufacturers to take back recyclable goods for disposal and reversal of a ban on the use of bisphenol A, a chemical linked to cancer in children's products.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME