Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Maine to sue EPA over tribal pollution and tribal rights

In a move that surprised nobody, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has informed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that she will be suing to overturn the agency's recent order to tighten water quality standards in Maine's Indian territories.

The dispute is ultimately about tribal rights in Maine, not the environment.

As previously reported, the EPA is acting to enforce Maine tribe's alleged right to sustenance fish on their territory, an action the agency says would endanger human health under Maine's proposed water quality standards. Gov. Paul LePage, an ally of the paper industry, called the decision "outrageous" and claimed it was made to retaliate against Maine for bucking federal edicts. Mills, in her letter to the EPA, says the tribe has no such right and that federal law clearly gives Maine authority over all environmental regulation on Indian reservations here.

The tribes are already at odds with the state over saltwater fishing, the applicaibility of the federal Violence Against Women Act to their territories, and other issues, and have called on Congress to intervene.

For additional background on the history of Maine's tribal-state relations, consider "Unsettled", the 31-part Press Herald series on the Passamaquoddy, which appeared in the paper last summer. (It's also available as an e-book here.)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Reviewing Barney Frank's memoir in the Washington Post

In today's Washington Post, I review former congressman Barney Frank's newly released memoir, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same Sex Marriage.

The book "relates his rise from pumping gas for his father’s northern New Jersey truck stop to Boston City Hall, the Massachusetts legislature and, ultimately, the upper echelons of congressional power. The central, ironic theme: As Frank’s influence grew — and anti-gay bigotry withered — the New Deal order to which he was devoted cracked, crumbled and was scattered before a libertarian wind"

Most political memoirs are safe, predictable and dull. This one isn't, which won't surprise anyone familiar with Frank (who now lives in southern Maine and even writes a column for the Maine Sunday Telegram.)

I've been busy writing my own book, so haven't reviewed one for the Post in a year. The last one was of Amy Chua's monstrosity, The Triple Package.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Passamaquoddy tribe to take hit from Gov. LePage poor relief reform

State House-watchers in Maine have been discussing Gov. Paul LePage's plan to reform the way the state compensates towns who provide emergency poor relief, "General Assistance" in local parlance. The governor's plan: that frugal municipalities should be rewarded and "free-spending" cities like Portland should be punished with cuts.

As I report in today's Portland Press Herald, the hardest hit communities under the proposed reform are two remote, rural, and extremely poor Indian reservations in eastern Washington County. On a per capita basis, they'll see far and away the most extreme cuts if the plan goes through.

But, as the story asks, why are those reservations spending such staggering sums on General Assistance: over a quarter million dollars a year in the case of Indian Township, population 718, or more than forty times that of the similarly-sized Penobscot reservation at Indian Island and about thirty times that of Indian Township's immediate neighbor, Princeton, population 832.

Tribal officials refuse to say, but a former chief has an unpleasant answer.

For more on the Passamaquoddy, consider "Unsettled", the 32-part serial that ran in the Press Herald this past summer, also available as an ebook.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Weston Andersen, 1922-2015

My grandfather, Weston Neil Andersen, died Sunday at 93. Born in rural northwestern Iowa and raised during the Great Depression, he was a disciple of the father of industrial design, Donald Dohner, and friend to the Budapest-born ceramicist Eva Ziesel. He moved to Maine in 1952 and built the stoneware line that bears his name with his London-born wife, Brenda, whom he met while serving in the 8th Army Air Force, in a Kensington ballroom, during an air raid.

His obituary is in today's Portland Press Herald.

For those who knew him, there's visitation tomorrow, March 6, at Hall's in Boothbay, Maine. Further information at the end of the obituary.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Gov. LePage calls EPA decision on Maine tribal waters "outrageous"

In today's Portland Press Herald, I wrote about the latest flashpoint between Maine's Indian tribes and the state's government who are at odds on many fronts over sovereignty issues.

The latest news is that Governor Paul LePage has sent a fiery and defiant letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, calling a recent order to improve water quality in tribal waters "outrageous" and charging it with vindictive behavior toward the state. It's also revealed that the tribes -- already at odds with the state over saltwater fishing, the applicaibility of the federal Violence Against Women Act to their territories, and other issues -- have called on Congress to intervene.

Here's a taste:

“Ultimately this is not about the water quality; this is just a platform to try to undermine the settlement acts,” said Manahan, a partner at Pierce Atwood who has been tangling with the Penobscots for 25 years on behalf of paper companies, dam owners and others. “I don’t think the tribes frankly care if there are job losses to municipalities and industries in Maine, and I don’t think EPA does either.”

Manahan described potentially dire economic consequences in the Penobscot River valley if more stringent standards are adopted to meet the EPA’s order: municipalities shelling out millions to improve wastewater treatment and having to raise property taxes to pay for it, and industrial users having to scale back production or buy new equipment. “For companies, this could result in job layoffs or cost increases that might cause them to make decisions to move elsewhere,” he said.

But the EPA says that’s not true, and that municipalities and most industrial dischargers on the river will almost certainly be unaffected by the tighter standards. “Based on the discharge information we’ve seen for these facilities, the vast majority won’t have to be concerned about most of these standards,” said Ken Moraff, director of ecosystem protection at EPA’s New England office in Boston. “We are not aware of any dischargers that are fundamentally in conflict with the sustenance fishing use.”
For additional background on the history of Maine's tribal-state relations, consider "Unsettled", the 31-part Press Herald series on the Passamaquoddy, which appeared in the paper last summer. (It's also available as an e-book here.)

[Update, 3/22/15: Maine will sue EPA over the issue.]

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Maine tribes want to prosecute domestic violence cases, state says no.

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I have a story on (yet another) jurisdictional conflict between the State of Maine and Maine's Indian tribes.

In the latest development, the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy tribe have asked legislators to approve a law that would give them jurisdiction to prosecute certain domestic violence cases involving non-Indians who abuse women, spouses, or partners on their reservations. The action is in accord with the federal Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2013, but the state Attorney General tells me her office contends the act does not apply to Maine tribes.

The Penobscot Nation is also involved in a dispute between the federal government and the state over water pollution in the Penobscot River, while both tribes have a long history of conflict with the state over the meaning of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Acts, described briefly here as part of my 31-part series "Unsettled." (The latter available as an ebook here.)

[UPDATE, 2/28/15: Several readers asked if I could share the full written statement from the state attorney general's office. For those interested, here it is:

"Whether a Maine tribe may summons a nontribal member for violating a tribal ordinance is an issue in the pending lawsuit brought by the Penobscot Indian Nation against the State of Maine seeking exclusive jurisdiction over 60 miles of the Penobscot River.
 
Beyond that, VAWA's extension to tribal courts was meant to address a serious problem in certain states where federal officials have prosecuted nontribal offenders and where access to justice for tribal members is difficult. See Congressional Research Service report attached. In Maine, state courts hear criminal charges and protection from abuse complaints brought against nontribal members. 
 
There are serious questions about what LD 268 proposes to do. Among other things: the bill presupposes jurisdiction which VAWA accords to the western tribes but not to the tribes in Maine; the bill is inconsistent with the Maine Criminal Code in major respects and is fundamentally nonspecific in other respects; it proposes to bootstrap certain provisions of federal law into state law without providing vital notice about what acts it would make criminal;  and the bill fails to address the basic constitutional rights of the accused, including the right to a public jury trial, the right of appeal and postconviction review to state and federal courts, double jeopardy, etc." ]

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Population figures for the American Nations

For those with an interest in the regional model set forth in my most recent book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, here are population figures for the U.S. portions of each of the nations as per the 2010 census.

From most populous to least populous:

Greater Appalachia         56.56 million
Yankeedom                      55.06 million
Deep South                      41.36 million
Midlands                          37.05 million
El Norte                           31.54 million
Far West                           27.81 million
New Netherland               18.07 million
Left Coast                        16.96 million
Tidewater                         11.93 million
New France                        2.76 million
First Nation                        0.06 million

Also, for those keeping count: the Spanish Caribbean section of south Florida has a population of 4.85 million; Hawaii (Greater Polynesia) has 1.36 million people. (Thanks to Nicollette Staton of the Miami University of Ohio's geography department for the calculations.)

If you're unfamiliar with the American Nations map, start with this Washington Post article and, if for a deeper and better explanation, this Washington Monthly feature.