The State of Maine's Environment is a regular series of reports written by senior environmental policy majors at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The State of Maine's Environment 2008 report includes four topics of importance to Maine: Energy and Climate, Toxic Substances, Marine Fisheries, and Private Land Conservation. In each chapter, we explore the history and context of the topic, evaluate its current state, and conclude with major findings and policy recommendations.
In The State of Energy and Climate, we find that 77% of Mainers rely on fuel oil for heating, a higher percentage than in any other state in the nation, and the average Maine household emits 11 tons of carbon dioxide per year from home heating. Maine is therefore vulnerable to increases in energy costs. Energy prices in Maine rose by 50% from 2004 to 2007, while energy use increased by 4.3%. Maine has high potential for renewable energy generation, due to its large areas of forest, its extensive undeveloped land, and its proximity to the ocean. These features of the landscape provide wood, wind, and tides respectively. We recommend that the state decrease its dependence on fossil fuels through offering loans and other incentives for efficient heating purchases. Maine should also expand its state energy efficiency program to more appliances and more homes. Furthermore, Community Action Program (CAP) agencies, which could help to make energy more affordable, are less numerous in low income areas of northern Maine. To help Maine families meet rising energy costs, more CAP agencies should be located in low income areas.
In The State of Toxics, we focus on three heavy metals: lead, arsenic, and mercury. We find that Maine has been effective in some aspects of toxics abatement but that Mainers continue to face adverse health effects from toxics pollution. Communities at high risk for lead poisoning have a high percentage of rental houses and houses built before 1950. Arsenic contamination disproportionately affects the rural poor. About 50% of Maine's population relies on drinking water from unregulated private wells and thus unknowingly ingests high levels of arsenic. Mercury pollution, largely from out-of-state sources, puts 10% of women of child-bearing age at risk for having babies with birth defects. Maine reduced its mercury by 99% from 1994 to 2008, but emissions from coal-fired power plants outside Maine continue to impact the state due to insufficient federal emissions regulation. To reduce mercury contamination in Maine, we recommend that Maine urge EPA to apply Clean Air Act controls to coal- and oil-fired power plants. For arsenic, the federal government should subsidize the costs of well water testing to decrease the burden of arsenic contamination on poor people. For lead, Maine should focus blood screening, education, and outreach efforts on urban areas with high percentages of old houses and rented homes. Finally, we recommend increased monitoring of human health impacts of lead, arsenic, and mercury in Maine.
In The State of Maine's Fisheries, we find that marine fisheries and the fishing industry in Maine remain relatively stable compared to those in other northeastern states in the US. In 1950 Maine's fisheries accounted for 24% of the total value of New England fisheries; today they represent 35%. In 2008, 2,200 wild Atlantic salmon returned to spawn in Maine's rivers, an increase from the previous year. This indicates that Atlantic salmon may be on the path to recovery from near extinction; however, these stocks still face threats due to pollution from Maine's aquaculture industry. The geographic distribution of value, harvests, and demographic characteristics of fishing communities suggest that Mainers differ in their reliance on commercial fishing; communities in Downeast Maine depend on commercial fishing more than do communities in southern Maine. The unprecedented 33% decrease in the price of lobster in 2008 serves as a reminder of the vulnerability of the fishing industry. We recommend that Maine apply community-based management and catch share regulations on all fisheries. The state should also protect coastal communities with economic safety nets, which could include direct aid, government purchases of harvest surpluses, and encouragement of bank loans. Finally, Atlantic salmon habitat should be protected through the removal of dams and the continuation of effective aquaculture regulation.
In The State of Private Land Conservation, we find that land trusts are an effective conservation tool in Maine. Land trusts currently protect 9.67% of the land in Maine, or approximately 1.97 million acres, and account for over half of all protected land in the state. Maine conserves 8.7% of its land in land trusts, compared to a national average of 1.38%. Local and statewide land trusts vary in their conservation goals and in the amount of land conserved. Statewide trusts usually conserve larger areas of land with economic or biological value, while local land trusts tend to conserve smaller areas with cultural, historical, or scenic significance. Both state and local land trusts, however, place an importance on public access to land. Of the 631 parcel descriptions available online, over 75% are also publicly accessible. We also identify a lack of specialized data on land trust operating methods in Maine, which we think reflects poor organizational transparency. Of the 85 land trusts with websites, 94.1% have a mission statement, 81.2% provide a list of board members, and only 8.2% and 4.7% provide a prioritization strategy or financial report, respectively. Accordingly, we recommend that land trusts continue to focus on public access and to improve information dissemination. In addition, land trusts and communities should increase planning and collaboration.