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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Maine Questions

Air Date: Week of

Environmental initiatives topped the ballot in several states. In Maine, voters rejected a controversial measure to manage the state’s forests. And over the objections of environmental groups, they approved an initiative to widen the Maine turnpike. Living On Earth producer John Rudolph explains the results to Steve.


CURWOOD: In the recent elections environmental initiatives topped the ballot in several states around the country. In Maine, voters rejected a controversial measure to manage the state's forests. And reversing an earlier vote, they approved an initiative to widen the Maine Turnpike. And here now to explain these election results is Living on Earth producer John Rudolph. Hi, John.

RUDOLPH: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Now, let's start with the forestry referendum that was rejected by Maine voters. I have to admit, I'm confused as to exactly what it would have done.

RUDOLPH: Well, so were a lot of the voters, and that's probably one of the main reasons why it was defeated. Its proponents said that it would limit the practice of clear-cutting through incentives and sustainable forestry practices. The opponents, however, argued that in fact it would increase clear-cutting by allowing land owners to clear-cut under the guise of sustainable forestry.

CURWOOD: Many environmentalists supported this, but not all of them, right?

RUDOLPH: That's right. The main opposition came from the Green Party of Maine. But it's important to note that they weren't the only ones who opposed it.

CURWOOD: Oh? Who else?

RUDOLPH: Well, the Green Party of Maine formed what you might call an unholy alliance with the Wise Use Movement, mostly small landowners, who want the government to take a hands-off approach to land management and land regulation.

CURWOOD: I mean, this is really pretty amazing to have this spectrum. I mean, what's this say? I guess politics makes pretty strange bedfellows, eh?

RUDOLPH: Well, the phrase that came to my mind was, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Now this issue goes to the state legislature, which has shown a great deal of reluctance to deal with forestry and forestry management issues. And it's anybody's guess what they will do, because in effect they're hearing two messages from this referendum vote at the same time. One message saying, "We want more regulation," and the other message saying, "We want less regulation." So what's a legislator to do?

CURWOOD: Well, that will be an interesting one to watch. Let's turn now to the highway. That was the other environmental-related measure on the ballot. And that was an initiative on widening the Maine Turnpike. It passed even though just a few years ago the state voted to block any widening of this highway. How come voters changed their minds?

RUDOLPH: Well, first of all, Steve, there's more traffic on the turnpike than there was in 1991 when that first referendum question passed. Second of all, the political landscape has changed. The 1991 referendum was promoted by environmental groups. It was coupled with something called the Sensible Transportation Act, which required the state to investigate all alternative methods of transporting people around the state before they widened the turnpike. This time, the referendum question was written by those who favor the widening, and they put it in terms of safety and the economic health of the state. And that gave a certain momentum to the question, which ended up in it being passed by the voters.

CURWOOD: So, does this mean now that these extra lanes will be put on the Maine Turnpike?

RUDOLPH: Even under the best-case scenario, in the eyes of turnpike-widening proponents, the wider road won't be a reality for 7 or 8 years. Before that happens, before any concrete is poured, the state needs to go to the Federal Government for permits. Right now, southern Maine, where the widened section of the turnpike would be, is out of compliance with Federal Clean Air standards. Opponents of the widening say that a wider turnpike will bring more cars to the area, thus exacerbating the air pollution problems. If they can make that argument to the Feds and make it stick, well, this turnpike widening project could be put off for a very long time.

CURWOOD: John Rudolph is a Living on Earth producer and a Maine resident. Thanks for the report, John.

RUDOLPH: You're welcome, Steve.



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