As wildfires continue raging across Canada and we reflect on one of the hottest Junes on record, the Maine Legislature is wrapping up a long and arduous session. By the end of their time in Augusta, our elected officials must allocate the remainder of the state’s budget. In this hot, fire-filled, rapidly changing world, it is critical that our state budget meet the needs of the climate crisis and support our precious natural resources. Our environment and future generations depend on it.

Maine’s jagged coast, vast forests, rugged mountains and clear lakes are the defining characteristics of our state. Today, they are all under threat. Climate change impacts our safety, public health, property, infrastructure, food systems — our very future. Its twin, biodiversity loss, threatens the fragile ecosystems that are the basis of our heritage industries as well as the foundation of life on earth. PFAS pollution threatens human and animal health as well as our agricultural heritage. We must reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, develop clean energy and manage development pressures without losing Maine’s remarkable quality of life and valuable open space.

Young people in Maine live in uncertainty about their futures. Will the Maine of our future continue to be a safe haven from the climate crisis, with cold flowing rivers and cool ocean breezes, or will the state be improperly developed and unprepared for climate disasters because of the chronic underfunding of natural resource agencies?

Our stellar natural resources are safeguarded by the departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; Environmental Protection; Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Marine Resources. Critical related programs reside within the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, the Governor’s Energy Office, Efficiency Maine and the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation. For too long, these agencies have carried out their legislative charge while facing challenges of inadequate funding and staffing. Without sufficient staffing at state agencies, our natural world, economy and public health  suffer.

We hear again and again that state agencies are unable to fill key positions because of uncompetitive salary levels. It was reported earlier this year that nearly one in six state jobs in Maine is unfilled. Qualified applicants are instead selecting jobs outside of state government, which offer more security and better pay. This is not surprising, given that repeated compensation studies have found state employees are underpaid by an average of 15% — and by far more for certain positions.

Legislators have a chance to address this issue by passing and funding L.D. 1854 to update the compensation plan for classified state employees — helping close the pay gap and ensure that we can fully staff vital state agencies. This important study has been incorporated into the proposed state budget, and lawmakers should support it.

We hope that legislators will take the threat of the climate and biodiversity crisis seriously as they continue debating the state budget. In order to create and sustain a just and livable future for all in Maine, we have no choice but to invest in protecting our greatest asset by far — our environment.

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