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Thursday December 01, 2011 | 02:32 PM

Sen. Olympia Snowe is giving an initial nod of approval to final federal rules making it clear that biomass fuel sources used by Maine paper mills and other businesses won’t be regulated as hazardous waste.

Snowe, R-Maine, said in a release that she and her staff were briefed by the Environmental Protection Agency on the rule today, which is to be formally released Friday. The EPA said last month that it planned to clarify the biomass rule, which was applauded at the time by Snowe and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.

Snowe and 10 other senators had sent a letter to the EPA about whether biomass fuel facilities would be treated like waste-burning plants under its rules, and Michaud had expressed similar concerns.

Snowe has said the rule as initially proposed could have been economically devastating to Maine’s paper mills and other businesses. But in an Oct. 14 letter back to Snowe and the other senators, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency expected 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.”

After meeting with EPA officials today, Snowe said she is “encouraged the EPA has listened to reasonable requests from Mainers and others and revised the solid waste rule to be more flexible.”

Snowe said that she still wants to speak to local businesses and interested parties in Maine to gauge their reaction to the final EPA rule, but said added that, “While we now need to review the specifics from the EPA, this is certainly a step in the right direction.”

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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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