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October 25, 2016

Report: Maine voters find common ground on clean energy, National Monument

Photo / Lori Valigra
Photo / Lori Valigra
Mainers came to Portland this morning to talk about how legislative decisions and the upcoming election will impact their businesses and to discuss a new poll. (Left to right): Lindsay Downing, co-owner of Mt. Chase Lodge; lobsterman Richard Nelson; Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine; Holly Noyes of Revision Energy; and fly-fishing guide and instructor Macauley Lord.
Courtesy / Natural Resources Council of Maine
Pete Didisheim, advocacy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said most Mainers believe having a clean environment and achieving a stronger economy aren’t mutually exclusive goals.

PORTLAND As Maine voters get ready to head to the polls, a new public opinion survey of likely Maine voters released on Tuesday shows strong, bipartisan support for the new national monument, solar power and other clean energy development, the Land for Maine's Future Program and protection for the state's environment.

The poll by market research firm DRI/Critical Insights Inc., which was released at a news conference this morning by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, was conducted between Sept. 23 and Oct. 5 via 405 random telephone interviews across the state with self-reported registered voters.

The poll covered Maine's 16 counties. Some 52% of respondents were female and 48% male, while the age distribution was about equal from 18 to those 65 or older. Some 36% were Democrats, 30% Republicans, 26% unenrolled or independent and 4% Green or other. About 46% considered themselves conservative, 33% liberal, 17% neither and 3% declined to comment.

The results were mailed to all 361 candidates for legislative office and to Gov. Paul LePage today, according to NRCM.

"The survey also shows that Maine people categorically reject the idea that our environmental laws need to be weakened to boost the economy," NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim said. "An overwhelming 70% say that our environmental laws are working and that we can have a clean environment while also achieving a stronger economy."

"We hope the poll will show the legislators that Maine people would like to get out of last place with solar," Didisheim said. Holly Noyes, solar solutions advisor at Revision Energy, said Maine ranks 43rd in the country for solar jobs, while nearby Massachusetts is second with 9,400 jogs.

Among the results: 72% of respondents support the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, while 22% opposed it. NRCM said the survey is the first detailed poll of Maine voters released since the monument was established on Aug. 24. The survey also shows voters believe the monument will boost tourism and create jobs in nearby communities.

The support for the monument came from men, women, all political parties and all parts of the state, the study showed.

Lindsay Downing, who left Maine to return last year with her husband to take over the family business, Mt. Chase Lodge in Patten near the new monument, said, "I can tell you that we already are seeing a big boost in business. People are coming from around the country to visit the national monument, proving that it will provide positive benefits to businesses in our region. It already is."

She added that the lodge has had visitors from all over the country hoping to be the first to visit the monument. "We never imagined it would take off as fast as it did," she said. "We hired two people. We had expected to do that in two years. This [the monument] has been a kickstart for us."

Fly-fishing instructor Macauley Lord said that pollution from metal mines around the world has destroyed rivers, streams and fish populations and the jobs related to them. "We can't let that happen here in Maine, so I'm pleased to see that such a high percentage of Maine people oppose weak mining regulations," Lord said. "People often see this as a jobs issue and it is here in Maine." He said it impacts guides and instructors like himself.

Speaking about the impact of climate change, 30-year lobsterman Richard Nelson from Friendship said, "From carbon policy to ocean debris, from remediating ocean acidification to nutrient loading, all have become a part of the realities and thoughts of a Maine fisherman."

He added that fishermen are seeing the ocean warm and become more acidic, with effects like how species change their molt and life cycles, migrations and abundance. "We see the increase of severe weather events, algae blooms, fish die-offs and closures due to toxins," he said. "These issues affect fishermen by threatening our livelihoods, and reinforce our heritage of conservation."

Nelson added that it's necessary to reach beyond his industry to friends, neighbors and decision-makers to help bring about policies to help maintain the healthy ocean upon which fishermen depend.

Here's a summary of the report's findings:

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument:

72% support, 22% oppose. More than 50% of Mainers support the national monument, 67% believe it will increase tourism in nearby communities and 58% believe it will increase jobs.

Solar power as a priority for Maine legislators:

61% support higher priority on solar power, 10% want a lower priority and 23% want existing policies on solar to remain unchanged.

Bipartisan solar bill next year:

76% support passage next year of the bipartisan solar energy bill that Gov. Paul LePage vetoed earlier this year; 18% oppose passage.

Rollback of "net metering" for solar energy:

62% oppose phasing out Maine's "net metering" policy, as Maine's Public Utilities Commission has proposed. Some argue that eliminating it would make solar energy less affordable for Maine residents and businesses. Only 25% percent support the rollback.

Land for Maine's Future Program:

80% support funding Land for Maine's Future next year, while 15% oppose.

Maine's mining rules:

75% oppose weakening Maine's mining rules, 55% strongly and 20% somewhat. 18% support weakening mining rules, 11% strongly and 7% somewhat.

Impacts of global warming: happening or not?

59% believe harmful global warming impacts are happening now in Maine. Some 8% think impacts will occur "within 10 years," 7% "within 25 years" and 7% "not until 50 to 100 years." Only 16% believe that global warming will "never" have harmful impacts in Maine.

Impacts of global warming:

70% believe global warming will harm Maine people a great deal or moderate amount, 8% believe it will cause just a little harm and 17% believe none at all.

Environmental laws:

70% think Maine's environmental laws have worked and 26% think they have gone too far and are hurting Maine's economy, so they should be loosened.

Limiting climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants:

77% support requiring power plants in the Northeast to decrease their carbon pollution by 5% every year, beginning in 2020, while 20% oppose this proposal.

Possible rollbacks of environmental protections:

79% would be very or somewhat concerned to learn that their state legislator voted to weaken laws that protect Maine's clean air, clean water and environment, while 19% would be only a little or not at all concerned.

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