October 22, 2013

New York, Delaware oppose Maine plan to loosen smog rules

The resistance could make it hard to get the EPA to ease what the state views as obstacles to economic growth.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Delaware and New York are opposing Maine’s proposal to loosen its anti-smog regulations, claiming it violates federal law and undermines efforts to reduce ozone and other air pollution in eastern states.

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A truck loaded with logs enters a paper mill in Jay in 2005. The paper industry backs Maine’s proposal to ease anti-smog rules, saying it will remove a barrier to major investments in mills. Wood pellet manufacturers also have expressed support.

2005 File Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Sappi paper mill in Westbrook

File photo by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The two states’ opposition – detailed in letters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – creates new headwinds for Maine’s proposal, which aims to remove what state and industry officials say are obstacles to economic growth that do nothing to improve air quality. The changes, drafted with help from the EPA, need approval from the agency, which will likely make a ruling by year’s end.

“At a time when we should be focused on improving air quality and having consistent standards across all the states that contribute to our air quality problems, we believe this is a step in the wrong direction,” Collin O’Mara, head of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, told the Portland Press Herald.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation agreed.

“We oppose this action because there are errors in the analysis that Maine relied upon to draw the conclusion that this action would not affect air quality in other states,” said department spokeswoman Lisa King. “States in the Northeast, and particularly New York state, need emissions reductions from all of the states contributing to their air quality concerns to meet federal air quality standards.”

In comments submitted to the EPA before an Oct. 3 deadline, environmental groups and the professional associations representing Maine’s physicians, osteopathic physicians and public health professionals also opposed the state’s proposal. Many comments have not been posted on the EPA’s website yet because of the federal shutdown that ended last week, but several people said they believe that Delaware and New York are the only states that submitted comments.

Massachusetts, the state most likely to be affected by emissions from Maine, did not submit comments, said Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts DEP. Officials in Maryland, Connecticut and the EPA’s regional office in Boston did not respond to phone calls.

MAINE'S CASE FOR DUMPING RULES

The Maine DEP has asked the EPA to allow it to exempt major new, or newly upgraded, industrial polluters in Maine from several measures that aim to reduce ground-level ozone in accordance with the federal Clean Air Act. The paper industry backs the change, saying it will remove a barrier to major investments in Maine paper mills, including conversions and upgrades that will actually improve air quality. Wood pellet manufacturers also have expressed support.

“We’re not anticipating higher levels of ozone in our state due to these changes – or in other states,” said Marc Cone, director of the DEP’s Air Bureau. “If we can eliminate some of these hurdles that don’t necessarily create any air quality improvements, then these investments can create cleaner mills and projects.”

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is specifically seeking to eliminate a requirement that industrial companies buy offsets for any additional volatile organic compounds created by new plants or major refits. The paper industry says such offsets – purchased from out-of-state companies that have closed or retrofitted plants that produce volatile organic compounds – can add as much as $2 million to the cost of converting a mill from oil to cleaner natural gas, which several want to do.

The DEP is also seeking to remove requirements that new and newly refurbished plants install the strictest technologies for controlling volatile organic compounds, noting that in many situations those are not the best technologies to achieve overall environmental improvements, like reducing particulate or sulfur dioxide emissions.

“You want to be able to look at things in the total environmental equation,” Cone said. “These rules don’t always let you do that.”

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Anti-smog rules

Should Maine loosen its anti-smog regulations?

Yes

No

View Results