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22                                                                                                        Proud to be a Card-Carrying, Flag-Waving, Patriotic American Liberal

A Tree Grows in Guatemala

Summer, 1991
Now, about this tree planting project in Guatemala. Think about the logic of this one for a while. On the one hand the AES people say that Bucksport air will be cleaner as a result of this plant, but on the other hand they say they have to plant millions of trees in a place thousands of miles away to compensate for the dirty air they are creating here in Maine.

I asked David Moskowitz recently why the company didn't plant the trees downwind of the Bucksport plant. He said they wanted to put fast-growing trees in a fast-growing climate to get the most out of the project.
Trees don't grow very fast in Downeast Maine.

Hold that thought. I'll be getting back to that.

He also pointed out that this is a global project for cleaner air, and that air cleaned by Guatemalan trees will clean our air as well.

I then asked him if Guatemala was such a good place, why they didn't put the power plant in Guatemala, upwind of the trees they planted. He accused me of being sarcastic.

OK, AES recognizes that trees don't grow very fast in Maine. I'll grant him that. Most foresters will project about half a cord of wood per acre per year is grown around here. That's about half the rate usually quoted for just a few hundred miles south of here.

I'd like to point out that fast growing stuff can often grow past a damaging time early in its life. Johnny's seed catalog talks about radishes, planted early, often growing past and recovering from root maggots. Radishes are ready in three or four weeks. Cabbage, on the other hand, planted out early, will usually succumb to the little critters. They don't replace the damaged tissue fast enough to stay alive.

Trees grow even slower, and, while root maggots disappear in the garden after June, this power plant is projecting to spew out its damaging chemicals on these trees, struggling young ones and stately old ones alike, day after day over the next 30 years. That's one generation of trees.

Reading such lively books as ''Air Pollution's Toll on Forests and Crops'' is to study what people have done, over time and mostly with governmental approval, to wreck major sections of this country's ecosystems. I find it a bit ironic that Champion Paper Company is excited about getting the steam from this plant, but that its endorsement could mean the ill health or premature death of the trees it needs for its very existence. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water!

But back to Guatemala. We haven't heard a whole lot about this project. All we've heard is that fast-growing trees will be planted. By whom? On whose land? Will they be tended? Will ones that die be replaced? If these trees grow that fast, will they mature during the life of the power plant? If so, will they be harvested? By whom? If they are harvested, will they be replaced? Will anyone from some regulating agency in Maine be checking on the progress of this part of the project? How often?

I just picture the company handing out baby trees at the Guatemalan Extension Office to a few local farmers and considering their job done. And I am more than a little skeptical of reclamation projects that costs lots of money but do nothing. I was living in Harborside, just a few miles down river from here, in the early 1970s when the Callahan Mining Company closed its copper and zinc mine, and began a quarter-million-dollar reclamation project for the mountain of waste rock left behind. The plan was to plant trees on this mountain, so they sprayed on a fertilizer mix that looked like an oily goo and stuck in some plants. It didn't look like much in the beginning, and years later it still looked like the oil-coated rocks of Alaska with a few dozen twisted and stunted trees struggling to survive. Yet for years the company touted its efforts and the great piles of money it spent on the project. But it didn't include pictures in its brochures. If you need a local example of great PR with nothing behind it, go down and take a look.

Someone once said that if the cost of medical care in this country were subtracted, instead of added, to the Gross National Product, the GNP would be a fraction of its current size. And, more importantly, that lower figure would more accurately represent the gains this country is making.

After all, a healthy economy and a healthy citizenry should be synonymous.
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