July 29, 2013

DEP calls for weakening of Maine smog regulations

Critics say the changes would remove Maine from a regional effort to control cross-border pollution.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has not scheduled a public hearing on the changes, and posted notices on its website so inconspicuously that the groups monitoring such proposals didn't see them until last week. Above, Maine DEP commissioner Patricia Aho.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

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Related Documents

Read the notice of the proposal
Read the DEP's technical analysis

In its 17-page brief on the proposed changes, the department also notes that Maine emissions "do not cause or contribute to ozone transport or production" in Connecticut and other areas of the northeastern United States that are not meeting ozone pollution standards. "Thus," it argues, "reductions ... in Maine are not necessary" to help bring those areas into compliance.

Other parts of the Northeast are also currently in compliance with standards, but are not seeking to withdraw from the smog requirements, including all of Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts (except for the island of Martha's Vineyard).

The statement also said that while the DEP believes it could opt out of a wider range of requirements, it was "only requesting to partially opt-out of some" of them. "Maine is not seeking a waiver from any other obligations established to (the Clean Air Act), and will continue to implement all other existing and newly promulgated control requirements," it reads.

Marc Cone, the DEP's air bureau director, said the department worked with EPA officials to come up with the changes, and "they are fully behind the technical and scientific rationale behind them."

Cone said the rules make no sense for Maine, a rural state that contributes relatively little to the region's ozone problem, but were harming business.

"We've had a couple of facilities that wanted to expand -- be it a sawmill or a pellet manufacturer or a paper mill that wants to increase production -- and one of the roadblocks has been that they have to get these emissions offsets," he said.

Severance said the DEP's argument is a poor one. "Because we meet standards now, therefore they say our entire state shouldn't have to do anything," he said. "That's incredibly shortsighted. We should be maintaining these (pollution) strategies because we're on the verge of knocking back over into nonattainment." He also said the EPA has more stringent standards in the works, which could change the status of some Maine counties.

As recently as 2004, much of coastal Maine did not meet federal ozone standards, according to the DEP's brief, which is dated Feb. 11.

Under Commissioner Patricia Aho, the DEP has undertaken an extensive redesign of its website, eliminating 80 percent of its Web pages for what Aho has described as "better search results and usability."

Cone said the DEP published a newspaper notice of the proposed changes according to department policy. A DEP spokesperson said the notice appeared in the Kennebec Journal in Augusta on June 29.

In letters sent to the DEP on Monday, three environmental groups call on the department to hold a public hearing. The Sierra Club, the Conservation Law Foundation and Natural Resources Council of Maine say the changes need public exposure, scrutiny and discussion.

"This proposal marks a very substantial change in Maine policy," NRCM advocacy director Pete Didisheim wrote, "and it should not be made without a full vetting of the possible negative implications for Maine."

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

cwoodard@pressherald.com

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