Activists say proposed EPA cuts threaten Maine

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SCARBOROUGH — Officials and experts spoke out against President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, saying they could hurt beaches, air quality, and tourism, and contribute to sea level rise and damage the health of Maine residents.  

The remarks came at a press conference Aug. 10 at Scarborough Beach State Park, hosted by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“President Trump’s EPA budget could spoil Maine coastal towns, beaches, water, and air,” Emmie Theberge, federal project director for the NRCM, said. “The Trump Administration and its allies in Congress are endangering our children and communities by pushing to gut environmental protections that are critical to Maine people and our economy.

“These cuts would affect every corner of Maine, but today we are focused on coastal impacts in particular,” Theberge said. “Sea-level rise could cause widespread economic impacts and costly property damage in Maine communities up and down the coast. Maine can’t afford to have EPA turn its back on climate science and the resources needed to help states prepare. These cuts mean more asthma attacks for our kids, more health problems for Maine’s elderly, and more ‘Code Red’ bad air days when vulnerable people must stay indoors.”

During the event it was announced a letter, signed by more than 70 organizations, is being sent to Maine’s U.S. senators and representatives, urging them to do “everything possible” to maintain the EPA’s budget “at no less than current funding levels. The health of our air, water, people, and economy is at stake.”  

A petition signed by more than 1,000 Mainers asking the delegation to “Please work vigorously to defeat the Trump Administration extreme cuts to the EPA,” was also sent to the delegation. 

Theberge said, “Even a moderate amount of sea level rise can cause problems for Scarborough.”

She added that there are more than 1,000 structures, worth about $124 million, that fall within the 100-year flood plain. She also noted that Scarborough has many low-lying roads, including major connectors – such as U.S. Route 1, Pine Point Road and Black Point Road – that are at risk for flooding. 

State Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York, a member of the Marine Resources Committee and founder of the Maine Legislature’s Coastal Caucus said, “Sea-level changes could dramatically affect Maine’s coastal towns in the coming years. … Rising sea levels and strong storms have caused beach erosion and destruction of roads and sea walls in Maine. Maine’s coast is a major driver of our state’s economy, providing jobs in fishing, tourism, boat building, and shipping.

“Our communities and state depend on EPA and other federal resources to ensure that we have access to the best science and information so that local planners and town officials can ensure we’re prepared for sea-level rise along our coast,” Blume said. “The proposed EPA rollbacks would hurt Maine’s communities and economy.”

Dr. Tony Owens, a Cape Elizabeth resident and an emergency room physician at Maine Medical Center in Portland, held up a mask used to treat asthma in small children in the ER. He said poor air quality contributes to asthma and other respiratory problems. 

“On those days when Maine’s air is polluted, I regularly see patients with respiratory problems,” Owens said. “Even healthy people are encouraged not to exercise on bad air quality days.”

Hunter Lachance, 14, of Kennebunkport, spoke about being diagnosed with asthma at age 9. He said one of the biggest problems for asthmatics is poor air quality. 
“Asthma is no fun. It is scary when I cannot breathe and I need to miss school and hang out indoors on dangerous air days,” Lachance said. “Maine has one of the highest rates of asthma in the nation. Our air is polluted by smokestacks and cars in other states, so we really depend on the federal government to protect us.”

In a press release, the NRCM said, “The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, threatening Maine’s fishing industry and thousands of Mainers who make a living from the sea. Combined with ocean acidification, this threatens our multi-billion-dollar coldwater fisheries from shrimp to lobsters.”

The NRCM also said the Trump proposal “singles out the EPA for the deepest cuts of any federal agency, causing widespread concerns in Maine about the potential impacts of these cuts if they are enacted.”

It said the proposal would “slash EPA programs that reduce pollution in Maine, save the lives of Maine people, and strengthen our communities and economy.”

Theberge said Scarborough’s Ferry Beach has benefited from Maine’s Healthy Beaches Program, which could be terminated by the proposed cuts.

“These cuts would be especially bad here in Maine, where our environment, economy, and way of life are so tightly intertwined,” she said. 

 Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Dr. Tony Owens, a Cape Elizabeth resident and emergency room physician at Maine Medical Center in Portland, speaks at a press conference Aug. 10 at Scarborough Beach State Park. The press conference, hosted by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, addressed proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. In the background is state Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York.