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Thursday October 06, 2011 | 12:00 PM

Pending federal boiler emission regulations could make it more difficult for Maine businesses such as paper mills to use alternative energy biomass sources of fuel, say Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd.

Snowe and ten other senators – all Democrats, including Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon – this week sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency asking the EPA to “clarify” whether the rule as written could “create uncertainty” for businesses over whether biomass could be wrongly defined as a hazardous material. That would be up the cost of using biomass, the senators say.

“We have each heard from paper mills and other businesses in our states that the rule as written may force investments to be curtailed and may require companies to replace biomass with fossil fuels, which disrupts the forest-based economy supply chain and detracts from environmental objectives as well,” the senators wrote in their letter to the agency.

Another Maine lawmaker, Republican Sen. Susan Collins has co-authored a bill with Democrat Wyden delaying by 15 months the EPA’s bouler regulations and requiring the agency to re-examine the issue of boiler emission regulations in reaching final rules. The bill also extends compliance deadlines for businesses that use boilers to five years from the current three years.

The Collins-Wyden bill, also, addresses the concern that biomass could be wrongly treated as hazardous material.

Environmentalists say efforts to block or delay boiler emissions regulations from going into effect overstate the costs to industry and allow harmful toxins such as mercury and lead emissions from boilers to continue to lead to thousands of premature deaths and other health problems each year.

Meanwhile, Michaud’s staff has been in touch with the EPA on the same issue, and has been told by the agency that agree there is a problem and will be trying to refine or clarify the issue administratively, said Ed Gilman, Michaud’s spokesman.

But Michaud also is backing the House version of the overall boiler emissions bill delaying the entire set of rules from taking effect. And it was on that overall topic that Michaud wrote a letter of his own this week to the EPA, saying that while the House will pass the boiler emissions bill this week, he isn’t so sure about its fate in the Senate, where several key Democrats are opposed.

So Michaud is asking EPA Adminstrator Lisa Jackson to consider taking administrative action not just on the biomass issue but boiler emission regulations in general to avoid a “one-size fits all approach.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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