In Support of the Pine Tree Amendment
Yesterday I testified in support of LD 928, also known as the Pine Tree Amendment. Here’s what I said and why.
What is the Pine Tree Amendment?
For those unfamiliar with the Pine Tree Amendment, a summary from the website of the advocacy group advancing it:
LD 928, known as the Pine Tree Amendment, would add language to the Maine Constitution to guarantee that, “The State shall conserve, protect and maintain the State’s natural resources, including, but not limited to, its air, water, land and ecosystems for the benefit of all the people, including generations yet to come.”
Does It Exist Anywhere Else?
Yes. Montana and Pennsylvania have had such amendments in place since 1971. Since then, and more recently, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have each added similar language to their constitutions.
What is the Counter-Argument?
The arguments against the Pine Tree Amendment mostly boil down to concerns around costly and frivolous litigation and additional regulations.
I am sympathetic to these concerns and think some really good issues were raised in the committee debate yesterday. None that would keep me from supporting the bill, but valid concerns than need to be addressed as this is debated.
Why I Testified
A friend of mine, Sue Inches, a Maine-based author, educator and environmental advocate, invited me to testify. I’d followed the Pine Tree Amendment in the last legislative session with interest. I was disappointed to see it fail.
Until Sue reached out, I hadn’t considered testifying.
Then I reflected on what a significant statement we would be making as a state if we amended our constitution to guarantee the right to a clean and healthy environment. Our constitution isn’t just a statement of laws, it’s a statement of values. It seems to me that the people of Maine, regardless of political affiliation, are a people who recognize the value of our natural environment and natural resources. I thought it appropriate to enshrine our belief in the importance of a clean environment in our constitution.
Furthermore, politics change. Administrations change. A constitutional amendment will serve as a backstop to ensure that if the state infringes on our clean environment, either by passing laws that endanger the environment or choosing to simply not enforce existing law, we have recourse to take action.
A constitutional amendment ensures that our natural environment will be protected for generations to come. It’s the future generations dimension of this proposal that really compelled me to take action.
What It Was Like to Testify
I’ve never testified on a state-level legislative issue before. It was actually really interesting and rewarding to participate in the conversation.
It’s so easy to get despondent about the state of our Democracy and feel that all of government is so dysfunctional. But what I saw yesterday was a reasonable, respectful questioning and debate about this amendment in the Environment and Natural Resources committee. It was really very encouraging to see our government functioning as one would expect – and to participate in the discussion. It was a gratifying and important reminder that you can participate in policy making and you can make a difference. And it can be fun!
What I Said
Below is the transcript of my comments. I’m sharing them here because I believe this issue is important enough that, even in my role as a business owner, it’s appropriate for me to share. Maybe even because of my role as a business owner – as business leaders, I think we need to be ready at times to speak publicly on matters of public policy that affect all of us and that we are passionate about. We bring a unique perspective to the conversation and us business owners do not always agree with each other or the organizations that represent us.
And that’s ok.
That’s what it means to live in a healthy democracy. Let’s share ideas, gather verifiable facts and have a real debate!
Thanks for reading,
Testimony in support of LD 928:
“RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Establish a Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment”
Good morning Senator Brenner, Representative Gramlich, members of the committee, my name is Joe Walsh. I’m a resident of Portland and a business founder and owner, currently employing 37 people and growing. I’m here to testify in support of LD 928, also known as the Pine Tree Amendment.
When the state constitution was written in 1819, and ratified in 1820, we didn’t have to think much about access to clean air and water, or about depleting natural resources. At that time, I can imagine our natural resources must have seemed limitless. In 2023, things have changed.
We know now that there are not infinite fish to catch or infinite trees to cut down. We also know that our soil can become polluted with invisible chemicals, ruining farm businesses, causing health problems and burdening us all with costly cleanup.
We can no longer take a clean environment and abundant natural resources for granted. If we want to enjoy the abundance our state has offered the generations before us, we must steward these resources, and ensure that protecting our air and water go hand in hand with growing our economy and providing opportunity for our children and grandchildren.
With this amendment in place, we ensure not only that Maine preserves its status as a vacation destination known for its natural beauty, but also a destination for a new generation of business owners, professionals and tradespeople who want to live here and build our economy because Maine is such a beautiful, healthy place to live.
As a business owner, I understand the concerns about creating additional regulations. I believe there are legitimate and important debates that MUST be had about how best to ensure we protect our natural resources through public policy, without creating an undue burden on businesses, individuals and municipalities. By supporting this amendment, I am not advocating for one or the other policy solution. Rather, I am arguing that we must future-proof our policy landscape to protect against encroachments on our ability to enjoy and leverage our natural resources, and to preserve these resources for future generations.
For me, LD 928 really is about my son. He’s 5, and he’s learning to ski, fish, hike and to be a great first mate out on Casco Bay and Rangeley Lake. I want him to grow and thrive in this state, and for his kids to do the same. I want for him what every parent wants for their kids – to be happy, healthy and do something good with his life. I believe that to do that, he needs clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and a healthy, clean environment to enjoy, and share with his children.
It’s time to let the people vote on the Pine Tree Amendment, to allow us the chance to update our constitution to meet the needs of today, and to ensure our children can thrive in the future.
Thank you for considering my testimony, and I hope you’ll support the Pine Tree Amendment.
Respectfully submitted, March 22nd, 2023