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Sixth Maine Town Passes Resolution Opposing Transport of Tar Sands Through Existing Pipeline

Energy

Natural Resources Council of Maine

Harrison residents voted 156-59 yesterday to pass a municipal resolution stating opposition to sending tar sands oil through ExxonMobil’s Portland-Montreal Pipeline, making it the sixth Maine town to publicly and officially oppose the proposal.

The 62-year-old pipeline, which stretches 236 miles from Montreal to South Portland, is being considered for the transport of tar sands, a form of toxic, thick oil that is associated with higher incidence of pipeline spills and can be nearly impossible to clean up. The pipeline stretches five miles through Harrison and crosses the Crooked River near Plains Road. The pipeline also passes through critical wetland habitat along the Crooked River watershed.

The Portland Montreal Pipeline crosses the Crooked River six times including once in Harrison. Photo courtesy of NRCM.

 
“Here in the Lakes Region, our lakes, rivers and streams are our livelihood and an important part of our economy,” said longtime Harrison resident Ray Sirois.

“Tourism represents the largest sector of Maine's economy. People come to Maine and the Lakes Region to fish in our clean rivers, to boat on our healthy lakes and to enjoy peace and quiet," continued Sirois. "Tar sands is a direct threat to both our environment and economy and that’s what this vote is about; regular citizens not wanting to place it all at risk."

The resolution stated serious concerns about the environmental and public health hazards of tar sands in the context of a town and region heavily dependent on a clean environment for recreation, tourism and the economy at large. Concerns about threats to water quality also motivated the resolution.

“A tar sands oil spill in to the Crooked River would be a disaster for Maine people and wildlife,” said Lee Dassler, executive director of the Western Foothills Land Trust. “The Crooked River is a AA water quality river, which is supposed to be the cleanest and most protected in Maine. It also provides critical spawning habitat for Maine Landlocked Salmon. The Crooked River also provides 40 percent of the surface water to Sebago Lake, the drinking water supply for one in seven Maine people.”

“My brewing company depends on clean, healthy water from the Crooked River watershed,” says Lee Margolin, owner of Pennesseewassee Brewing in Harrison. “A tar sands oil spill in to the Crooked River would devastate the river ecosystem, homeowners like me along the river and the many businesses that depend on it like my brewing company.”

The resolution was submitted by Harrison residents who have become increasingly opposed to tar sands oil threatening the local environment and economy. Harrison residents collected over 250 signatures from registered Harrison voters at the polls last November and worked with the town selectmen to put the resolution on Tuesday’s ballot.

Over 50 local residents rally on the Bolsters Mills Bridge over the Crooked River in Harrison, ME, on July 25, 2012 to say no to tar sands in the Lakes Region.

The resolution calls upon elected leaders to help ensure any tar sands pipeline proposal gets a complete environmental impact review, something that can be required by the U.S. State Department for cross-border pipelines. More than 30 towns along the pipeline have already passed similar resolutions including Casco, Waterford, Raymond, Bethel and Portland.

“I’m pleased to see this resolution pass because a tar sands oil spill in Harrison would be a disaster,” said longtime Harrison resident Jane Dann. “Ultimately, our children and grandchildren will need to live with this pipeline in their backyards for years to come. We should not put their future at risk by sending toxic tar sands oil through the pipeline.”

“We congratulate the town and citizens of Harrison on passing this important resolution,” said Todd Martin, outreach coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Once you learn about tar sands and pipelines, it’s not hard to see that it would be a bad deal for Maine.

The resolution  reads:

A RESOLUTION TO PROTECT THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF LOCAL CITIZENS, WATERBODIES AND OTHER NATURAL RESOURCES IN RELATION TO THE POSSIBLE TRANSPORT OF TAR SANDS OIL THROUGH MAINE
 
WHEREAS the town of Harrison has previously supported local, state and/or federal actions to safeguard human health, ensure the safety of citizens, and protect the environment; and
 
WHEREAS the town of Harrison benefits immensely from the pristine lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds that define our region and that have for generations provided recreation for residents and tourists alike, and which enhance  property values and generate substantial economic activity that sustains jobs; and
 
WHEREAS the oil industry appears to plan to use an aging oil pipeline, built in 1950, to bring Canadian tar sands diluted bitumen through the Lakes Region to Casco Bay for export, even though the pipeline passes next to Sebago Lake and numerous other lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams in the Lakes Region; and
 
WHEREAS pipelines carrying tar sands have a greater likelihood of leaks and spills because of the corrosive properties of tar sands and the higher temperatures and pressures involved in pumping the viscous substance through pipelines; and
 
WHEREAS between 2007 and 2010 pipelines carrying tar sands oil in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan spilled almost three times more oil per mile of pipeline compared with the U.S. national average; and
 
WHEREAS tar sands spills are more dangerous and more difficult to clean up than conventional oil spills; and
 
WHEREAS in 2010 a pipeline spilled more than a million gallons of diluted tar sands down a 30-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, creating a public safety, health, and environmental disaster with long-lasting impacts; and
WHEREAS the mining and processing of tar sands requires a vast and destructive industrial operation that emits three to five times more carbon pollution per barrel than the production of a barrel of conventional U.S. crude oil, among many other problems; and
WHEREAS the transport of tar sands oil to and through Oxford and Cumberland counties in the state of Maine would pose unreasonable risks to the health, safety, natural resources, property and/or economic welfare of persons living in the town of Harrison.
 
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Harrison expresses its opposition to the transport of tar sands oil through Maine, and is deeply concerned about the risks that such transport may create in relation to public health and safety, property values, and the clean air, water, and land upon which the local community depends; and
 
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the town of Harrison call upon the Maine State Legislature and the United States Congress to ensure thorough environmental impact reviews of tar sands diluted bitumen pipeline proposals, including a complete evaluation of the health and safety impacts of potential tar sands oil spills to Maine’s clean water, air, and land; and
 
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the town of Harrison support the creation of clear Federal and State guidelines for tracking the origins and chemical composition of various types of fuel so that local governments, citizens, and first responders can better know of, and plan for, the risks associated with the specific type of fuel flowing through or to their communities; and
 
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the town of Harrison encourage the State of Maine and other states in the northeast to support policies, including a regional Clean Fuels Standard, that help shift oil use away from high impact fuels such as those from tar sands and toward cleaner energy options  available in Maine and the region; and
 
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the town of Harrison transmit a copy of this resolution to the Maine State Congressional delegation, Maine State Representative of Harrison, and the Maine State Senator of Harrison.

Visit EcoWatch’s TARSANDS page for more related news on this topic.

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"The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it's helped our industry—and it's been a big boost for the Maine economy," Porter, the current president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, said. "But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way."

The Gulf of Maine is setting frequent temperature records and warming faster overall than 99 percent of the world's oceans, due in large part to climate change. Meanwhile, its lobster population skyrocketed by 515 percent between 1984 and 2014. In 1990, for example, lobster landings in Maine totaled 28 million pounds. Ten years later that figure was up to 57 million pounds. And in every year since 2011, the take has exceeded 100 million pounds, peaking at 132.6 million pounds in 2016 and turning lobster into a half-billion-dollar industry for the state.

Fishermen like Porter have been reaping the benefits of the boom, but he's right — as the Gulf of Maine's waters inevitably continue to warm, lobster populations will almost certainly decrease. The crustaceans thrive at temperatures between 61 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water hits 70 degrees, its oxygen levels plummet, to the detriment of a host of marine plants and animals, lobsters included. According to a 2018 study, the gulf's lobster population could fall by 40 to 62 percent over the next 30 years, returning the industry — the nation's most valuable fishery — to early-2000s numbers.

"Temperature is a big part of the story here," said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and a coauthor of the study. "Lobster is likely to decline, and that's obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming."

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Marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute notes that rising temperatures have also contributed to a decline in other fisheries like shrimp, cod and scallops, leaving fishermen in Maine precariously dependent on the thriving lobster populations. "A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we're seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried," she said. In response, Arnold and her colleagues are encouraging fishermen to think about diversification opportunities like aquaculture. "We're trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem."

State lawmakers, too, are taking note of the warming trend and rising up in support of climate action. Maine Governor Janet Mills cited concerns about climate change impacting the lobster industry in her February announcement that the state would join the U.S. Climate Alliance. She has also linked the recent creation of a Maine Climate Council and ambitious statewide renewable energy goals to the health of local fisheries. (Mills recently signed several climate bills into law that will help the state transition to 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.)

Such a head-on response to the impacts of climate change facing Maine offers a much-needed boost to the future of both lobsters and the coastal communities that rely on the fishery. Meanwhile, the iconic sea creatures have already benefited from generations of conservation efforts, as noted by Pershing and his fellow researchers. In addition to heeding minimum and maximum catch size limits, fishers must refrain from taking any egg-bearing female lobsters. Instead, when they catch these breeders, they clip their tails with a "V notch,"—a mark that will stay with a lobster through several molts—then release them. (The clipped tail signals to other fisherman who may encounter the same lobsters that they are off-limits.)

Porter and other fisherman liken this investment in the future of the industry to putting money in the bank. And marine scientists, including NRDC's Lisa Suatoni, call it smart climate policy. "Leaving these large, fecund females in the water is a really good idea in the context of a rapidly changing environment," Suatoni said. "It isn't just fixated on how to get maximum sustainable yield but also expanding our objective to also get increased ecological or evolutionary resilience."

The decline of the lobster industry in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, where waters are warmer and regulations less stringent than in Maine, serves as a cautionary tale for their northern neighbor. Landings in southern New England shrank by as much as 70 percent from 1997 to 2007, but the industry has resisted many conservation measures, and again rejected fishing restrictions brought to the table by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2017.

The proposed restrictions would have changed the legal harvesting size and reduced the number of traps allowed per fisherman, among other regulation changes. Had Maine followed the same lax approach, Pershing and his colleagues estimate that lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine would have increased by less than half as much as it did during their 30-year study period.

While Pershing praises Maine's forward-looking approach for boosting the resilience of its lobster industry in the face of the growing climate crisis, "there's a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it," he said. "When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it's a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models."

Pershing says that climate change is having impacts up and down the food chain in the Gulf of Maine. For example, a sharp decline in a species of tiny copepod — a shrimp-like creature that is a favorite food of herring, seabirds and endangered right whales — is putting further stress on these creatures.

"These aren't just faraway changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them," Pershing said. "There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast."

Nicole Greenfield is a writer at NRDC whose articles on religion, the environment, popular culture and social justice have appeared in many publications.

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Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.

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The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.

"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.

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"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."

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