Maine’s environmental leaders say they don’t know what to expect when Paul LePage becomes governor.

Many who head environmental groups, land trusts, trail committees, conservation commissions, outdoors and sporting groups in Maine say they hope to work with the administration and Legislature. But they say they don’t intend to compromise when it comes to clean air, water and children’s health.

“We will stand firm and fight, no question about it,” said Everett “Brownie” Carson, head of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Activists said they will be closely watching the newly elected Republican and the state’s first Republican-controlled Legislature in more than 35 years. Some wonder if the era that started in the 1970s, when Sen. Edmund Muskie worked to establish the Clean Water Act and put Maine in the forefront of the environmental movement, has ended.

“I don’t think anyone really understands how this is going to unfold. I am seeing a lot of people with really long faces, very worried about how they are going to get things done,” said Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers.

During the campaign, LePage expressed views that sent shudders through the environmental community. The governor-elect blamed environmental regulations for Maine’s lackluster business climate. He endorsed the development of hydropower over wind and said the state was ripe for a nuclear power plant. He proposed merging the Department of Environmental Protection with the Department of Agriculture.

He said private, rather than government, ownership results in better stewardship of natural resources.

He questioned the validity of global warming, saying it was based on made-up science.

“Some of my colleagues are very nervous about comments by LePage and (Eliot) Cutler,” said Jym St. Pierre, Maine director of RESTORE: The North Woods.

CONFUSED ABOUT STANCE

Despite his blunt statements on environmental matters, many say they are unsure where LePage stands on many environmental issues and whether his goal is to dismantle longstanding environmental protections. Environmental issues rarely surfaced in gubernatorial campaign debates, taking a back seat to jobs, the economy and government spending.

Maine’s next governor can have a huge impact on Maine’s environmental climate. The governor nominates the commissioners of a host of agencies that deal with the environment, such as the DEP, the Conservation, Marine Resources and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife departments, and the State Planning Office.

The governor also picks nominees to a number of environmentally related boards and commissions, such as the Board of Pesticides Control, Board of Environmental Protection, Land Use Regulatory Commission and Land for Maine’s Future.

Dan Demeritt, LePage’s communications director, said LePage was not available for an interview on environmental topics last week.

Demeritt said LePage has relied on his interactions with “real people” to inform his environmental views, and he does not expect that to change.

“He will pick up the phone and talk to a logger rather than a policy expert,” Demeritt said.

It was not just LePage’s campaign statements, but also his decision not to show up at several high-profile forums focused on environmental matters that alarmed environmentalists. He was the only candidate to skip a debate sponsored by the Conservation Law Foundation, Environment Northeast, Maine Audubon, the Maine Center for Economic Policy and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. He was the only candidate not to participate in taped interviews by Maine Audubon. He was the only candidate who passed up meeting with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

NEVER A PARTISAN ISSUE IN MAINE

At the same time, environmentalists say a major shift in direction would be politically impossible because so many Mainers support environmental protections. Ted Koffman, head of Maine Audubon, noted that 60 percent of Maine voters approved a $9 million land conservation bond Tuesday.

“It says something about the shared and common value in protecting our resources,” said Koffman.

Maureen Drouin, executive director of the Maine League of Conservation Voters, said the environment has never been a partisan issue in the state. In the past, Republicans led the charge to remove billboards from Maine’s landscape.

Outgoing state Sen. Peter Mills, Sen. Earle McCormick of West Gardiner and Sen. Kevin Raye are more recent Republican environmental champions, said Carson.

“We have worked very closely with the Legislature on both sides of the aisle,” said Carson.

St. Pierre, at RESTORE: The North Woods, sees areas where environmental groups can work together with LePage, but they need to make the case that protecting the environment is good for the economy.

St. Pierre has long advocated creating a national park in Maine’s northern woods.

“All the studies we have seen show there would be a significant number of jobs associated with a large park or similar conservation,” St. Pierre said.

FOCUS ON THE COAST

Don Perkins, president of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, said he hopes LePage will see the potential for economic growth from the state’s marine resources.

“My hope is he will focus on coastal economic development. Marine resources are central to the Maine economy,” said Perkins.

LePage also showed some signs of toning down his anti-environmental rhetoric. At a forum Sept. 23 sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Council of Maine, LePage announced he no longer supported merging the Department of Environmental Protection with the Department of Agriculture as he had earlier in the campaign. He also pledged to the take the environment into account in his energy policies.

“We (will) prioritize them, with the environment and price being key issues,” he said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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