Recently, my wife and I returned to Maine from a vacation to South Dakota and North Dakota and the Midwest. We stopped at Cuyahoga Valley National Park south of Cleveland, Ohio, and were treated to a dramatic view of how the Clean Water Act and national standards have benefited our American landscape: a great blue heron wading in the Cuyahoga River.

What made the sighting of this now-common bird remarkable was that the river in which the heron was hunting for frogs and fish had in 1969 dramatically caught fire, bringing sudden attention to the desperate situation faced by many American waterways — all-too-handy resources for the dumping of industrial waste and municipal sewage. In fact, floating, discarded oils could be flammable to such a degree the river itself could burn. Public outrage then helped spark reaction from prominent caring figures such as Maine’s Senator Ed Muskie, resulting in the creation of what became the national Clean Water Act, passed over the veto of Richard Nixon in 1972.

Today’s effort to shift environmental controls to states, currently expressed in federal legislation — HR 2018 — threatens to dilute the best of our federal government and to choke what we have come to depend on as the Clean Water Act. As we in Maine reflect on “the way life should be,” no matter how capable our own state regulators and enforcers are I hope we can maintain vigilance nationally and keep a realistic picture of what is necessary to protect the silent and innocent wild representatives — the herons and other creatures — of a wildness precious to all that we do and all that we live for. The primary national protector for American nature is the EPA, and it deserves to keep its potency as it continues to earn our respect and support.

John W. Hoy

Freeport 

I am a mother and grandmother concerned about children’s health in Maine. I recently joined some friends, colleagues and a 20-foot-tall inflated baby bottle for a press event to raise awareness about the LePage administration’s noncompliance with the new law restricting the use of bisphenol-A or BPA. The Maine DEP has recently missed a major deadline for phasing out BPA, and recent staff reassignments within the DEP show even further evidence that the administration is not taking our laws seriously.

Attending this event was a great experience for me, as I realized how much progress we have made on reducing exposure to this harmful chemical over the past year. Just last February, we were told by Governor LePage that BPA resulted in nothing more than women growing “little beards.” And yet almost all of our legislators sided with sound science to pass a ban on BPA in sippy cups, baby bottles and reusable containers.

As we gathered at Portland’s Eastern Prom on what could not have been a more beautiful day in Maine, I agreed with the speaker who said that reducing harm from toxic chemicals is part of protecting Maine “the way life should be.” As a mother and a grandmother, I sincerely hope that both our legislative and executive branches will work together to make our state safer and healthier for future generations.

Patt Murphy

Standish 

Please keep a trash bag in your car and use it for your Dunkin Donuts cups, soda bottles and cans, empty cigarette packs and McDonalds’ meals bags. Many of us walk, run and bicycle along our country’s roads, and even when we’re driving, we don’t like to see trash that has been thrown out your car window.

America is beautiful — be patriotic and keep it that way.

Janice Rogers

Arrowsic 

Religious beliefs should not control civil marriage 

I am a transplant to Maine from the deep South, where there is a deep religious hatred for homosexuals and their desire to be treated as equals in the sight of the law. The issue of “marriage” has nothing to do with religion, it is a civil arrangement that is sanctioned by the state, not by the church. No one is legally married unless they go to the courthouse and apply for a marriage license, you don’t have to go to a church to make it legal.

My wife and I are married, and we never set foot in a church and have no inclination to do so; but we are legally married and we have certain protections under the laws of this state and all states. The trouble with religion is that they do not care about the definition of marriage so much as they want to take every opportunity to diminish everything they see as “unholy” such as homosexuality. The real issue is not the definition of marriage as much as it is the defamation of an entire segment of the population and the desire to deny this population equal rights under the law.

I wish religious people would spend one-tenth the energy and money on real social issues like hunger, health care, and homelessness that they spend on this trumped up cause to hate homosexuals. There are real problems out there and they are not in the bedrooms of good and decent Americans, regardless of their sexuality.

Martin T. Kinard

Sanford 

Knowledge and freedom at the Maine State Prison 

When I entered the Maine State Prison in August 2006, I had no idea what to expect. I had accepted a job as an adjunct professor of American history at the University of Maine, and I would be teaching 15 inmates.

The program was supported by Doris Buffett, Warren Buffett’s sister. Doris had started similar college programs at maximum security prisons like Sing Sing and San Quentin.

During the second year I taught a course: “Race, Religion, and the U.S. Constitution.” The course focused on three time periods in American history when constitutional law, religion, and race intersected resulting in revolutions in American moral and political life: the McCulloch v Maryland (1819) decision, the enactment of the 13th Ammendment (1865), 14th Amendment (1868) and 15th Amendment (1870), and the 1960s civil rights movement.

I selected a student to run each seminar which meant that he had to lecture from his own notes and address questions outlined in the syllabus. These discussions included critical discussions of Plessy v Ferguson (1896) and Brown v Board of Education (1954). They were required to support their positions based on the facts of the case, legal precedents and the context of the times.

The students were learning how to process information and weigh the pros and cons of legal arguments. They were learning how to think critically and to present logical arguments in support of their positions. This was preparing them to re-enter society, to earn a living, and to make positive contributions to their communities.

I reminded them of the story of Malcolm X, who had been confronted by a black Muslim in prison. The Muslim had asked Malcolm whether he was free, and Malcolm responded of course not, I’m in prison. The black Muslim pointed to Malcolm’s head and said, “no Malcolm, you are free up there.”

C. Patrick Mundy

Spruce Head 

Insight section often fails to offer balanced views 

It is very difficult to get any sort of unbiased reporting these days, and your paper’s Insight section seems to be just another right-leaning media outlet.

There may be opposing views scattered here and there, but the far-right agenda seems to get top billing and placement in your newspaper.

I’d truly appreciate a more balanced paper or I will truly have to consider canceling my subscription.

Susan Hall

Falmouth