Tribal sovereignty, curbing out-of-state waste among priorities for environmental coalition / by Evan Popp

A coalition of Maine advocacy groups on Thursday announced a slate of seven priority environmental bills for the 2022 legislative session, providing a preview of upcoming efforts to combat climate change and protect the state’s natural resources.

At a virtual event, the Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC) provided a breakdown of each of the bills, six of which the coalition is supporting and one of which the group is opposing. Made up of 37 organizations around the state — including Maine People’s Alliance (of which Beacon is project) — the EPC seeks to identify the legislation that will have the greatest environmental impact each session. Last year, the coalition prioritized 10 bills, seven of which became law. 

This year, EPC will be supporting the effort by Wabanaki tribes to reinforce their sovereignty, a bill to close a loophole allowing out-of-state waste to flow to Juniper Ridge Landfill, a measure that would amend the Maine Constitution to provide the right to a clean and healthy environment, legislation to expand the state’s ecological reserve system, a bill to fund opportunities for climate education in schools, and a measure to increase protections for certain rivers and streams in Maine. In addition, the EPC is opposing a bill that the coalition says would curb the state’s ability to make science-based decisions when it comes to the impact of dams on rivers. 

Thursday’s event featured presentations on each of the seven bills. On the tribal sovereignty measure, LD 1626, Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana said the bill would simply amend the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, a jurisdictional arrangement between tribes and the state of Maine that Wabanaki leaders say has stifled the tribes economically and prevented them from exercising their inherent sovereignty.

Specifically, LD 1626 would strengthen tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction, recognize the rights of tribes to regulate hunting and fishing on their lands, and affirm the Wabanaki’s sovereignty over natural resources and land use on their territory, among other provisions. 

“Really it’s all about bringing tribes into a place of equality with all the other tribes in the country. So the tribes in Maine right now because of that Settlement Act do not have access to federal legislation passed since 1980,” Dana said. 

The bill’s sponsor, House Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), added that under the current arrangement, Maine continues to “keep the tribes under a very paternalistic state system.” The bill is meant to “restore the tribes to a place of equality and dignity” so they are treated like all other tribes across the country, Talbot Ross said. 

LD 1626 was first introduced in 2021 but was carried over to the 2022 legislative session after opposition from Gov. Janet Mills. The bill will likely be at the center of the action in Augusta this year, with a wide-ranging coalition of groups and advocates lining up behind it. 

Juniper Ridge Landfill. | Chek Wingo, Sunlight Media Collective

Another EPC priority bill is LD 1639, sponsored by Sen. Anne Carney (D-Cumberland). The bill would close a legal loophole in Maine law that has allowed Juniper Ridge in Alton to become a dumping ground for waste from surrounding states. 

The amount of waste going into the landfill is increasing every year, the EPC noted, filling 32% faster than anticipated. A continuation of that means additional expansions of the landfill, which the coalition argued would lead to increased pollution, disproportionately harming members of the Penobscot Nation living near the site along with other residents of the surrounding area.  

“Putting solid waste in a landfill is the option of last resort. And LD 1639 will make sure that we’re not importing solid waste from other states that takes up the landfill space Mainers need,” Carney said. 

The EPC is also backing LD 489, sponsored by Sen. Chloe Maxmin (D-Lincoln). Also known as the Pine Tree Amendment, the bill would add the right to a clean and healthy environment to the Maine Constitution. 

Maxmin said the bill, part of a movement of “green amendments” in states around the country, is designed to provide the tools to hold governments accountable for environmentally harmful decisions and to ensure that Maine’s natural resources are protected going forward. 

“All of the bills that we’re talking about here today are so important and we hope that they get passed into law,” Maxmin said of the other priorities the EPC is supporting. “But most importantly, we want them to stay in law. We don’t want these priorities to be subject to political whims. And the only way we can do that is by putting in our constitution the right to a healthy environment.” 

On the education front, the EPC is pushing a bill — LD 1902 — to help increase opportunities for students to learn about climate change. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York), would provide grants to educators for professional development in teaching climate science and also furnish school districts with funds to partner with community organizations to implement trainings for teachers in “next generation science standards and  interdisciplinary climate education.” 

“We have a decade of doing that we must engage in,” Blume said of the need to combat the climate crisis. “We need to change our projections, change the way that we’re emitting greenhouse gas emissions. And empowering our youth is one way to do that.” 

Ania Wright, an organizer with Sierra Club Maine who also supports the bill, said she didn’t fully understand the gravity of climate change when she was in high school. It was only in college that she received in-depth education on the subject. Wright said others around the state have had a similar experience, arguing that LD 1902 would provide “much-needed support for teachers across Maine in funding climate education professional development.” 

Another EPC priority bill is LD 736, which would help Maine meet its climate goals by expanding the state’s ecological reserve lands. Ecological reserves on average store 30% more carbon than other areas in the state on a per-acre basis, the EPC noted. However, state-owned ecological reserves currently cover less than 1% of Maine, and the coalition said an arbitrary cap on the amount of acres of such land permitted is limiting the growth of that number.  

LD 736 would allow Maine to expand its ecological reserve land holdings, said bill sponsor Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), providing a valuable tool in the fight against climate change and preserving the state’s natural treasures. 

“Public lands add incredible value to our state, and as a subset of all public lands, ecological reserves provide critically important habitat for Maine’s at-risk species, they conserve biodiversity, sequester and store carbon and offer exceptional recreational opportunities,” she said.   

A view of the Penobscot River in Bucksport | Via NRDC

An additional bill the EPC is focused on, which has not yet been printed, is a measure put forward by the state Department of Environmental Protection that recommends improved protection for certain water bodies. The coalition said increasing such standards is among “the most important tools to improve and protect Maine’s clean water” and that approving the DEP bill would be particularly fitting given that 2022 represents the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. 

“We think this is an excellent bill,” said Nick Bennett, staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, noting that the measure has already undergone significant review by the state’s Board of Environmental Protection.

The final bill discussed Thursday is legislation that the EPC opposes. The group said the bill, which has not been printed yet, is a measure backed by dam owners that would limit the ability of Maine’s government agencies to participate in a process to reevaluate the impact of dams and set water quality standards in such areas. The EPC argued that examining dams is important because of the impact they have on fish, particularly Atlantic Salmon, whose migration has been blocked by dams on the Kennebec River. 

John Burrows, executive director of U.S. programs at the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said Thursday that one company in particular, Brookfield Renewable Partners, owns multiple harmful dams in Maine and hasn’t put forward proposals to adequately address the impact those dams have on fish. 

Burrows said defeating the measure, which is currently known as LR 2167, is crucial to protecting the health of the state’s waterways. 

“Every person in Maine that cares about our rivers, our wildlife, and the health of our estuaries and the Gulf of Maine should really be alarmed by this effort,” he said.

Top photo: Supporters of tribal sovereignty in Augusta in 2021 | Beacon

Author: Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan(at)

Source: Maine Beacon, January 21, 2022,