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Friday October 14, 2011 | 02:58 PM

Maine lawmakers are applauding a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to make it clear under federal rules that biomass and other alternative energy sources used for fuel should not be regulated as hazardous waste.

The EPA today responded to a letter sent by 11 senators, including Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and to similar concerns raised by Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd, about whether biomass fuel facilities would be treated like waste-burning facilities under its rules.

In a letter to Snowe and the other senators, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency expects to produce a final rule that “would provide certainty to industry by codifying provisions to avoid creating disincentives for burning clean materials, such as biomass, for fuel, while preserving the public-health protections required by the Clean Air Act.”

Snowe said the rule as initially proposed could have been economically devastating to Maine’s paper mills and other businesses.

“I appreciate that EPA has agreed to our request to revise the devastating the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials rule that Maine’s key employers agreed would have negated millions of dollars in alternative energy investments, particularly in our paper mills,” said Snowe.

Other senators who wrote the letter to the EPA earlier this month included Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Michaud said he too had expressed concerns to the EPA about how biomass would be treated. He said a bill passed this week by the House delaying the EPA from issuing regulations limiting industrial boiler emissions also addressed the biomass issue, but is pleased that the EPA is clarifying the rule without waiting for legislation to be signed into law.

A boiler emissions regulations bill also is pending in the Senate, co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“This will help ensure that Maine’s paper companies don’t face increased fuel costs and continue to use this renewable source of energy for their operations,” Michaud said. “It will also ensure that federal regulations don’t unnecessarily stifle the adoption of renewable biomass, which has been an economic boon for our state over the last few years.”

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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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