May 14, 2013

Maine legislators turn down a ban on tar sands

Committee members instead endorse a bill that would require more study of issues related to the fuel.

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Legislators are considering a two-year moratorium on allowing the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline to be used to transport so-called tar-sands oil.

Associated Press File Photo

The committee rejected the moratorium principally because of the possibility that it would violate federal interstate commerce law and likely would not withstand a court challenge, lawmakers said.

The moratorium's defeat was a victory for representatives of the petroleum, pipeline and transportation industries. The amended measure allows for a pipeline reversal to move ahead, despite Portland Pipe Line Corp.'s statements that no such plan has been proposed.

Tim Walton, director of external affairs for The Cianbro Cos. of Pittsfield, said last week that no plan or project has been announced. "It would appear that this (moratorium) proposal is in essence a solution in search of a problem," he said.

But many environmental groups, Maine residents and citizen activists believe that Portland Pipe Line will go ahead with a flow reversal. Several towns have passed measures banning transportation of tar sands oil across their borders.

Even on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, not all members were wholly satisfied with the decision to limit action on tar sands oil to further study. Several said additional action might be needed in the future to safeguard the environment and the public.

"I just think it's important to think about what's at stake," said Rep. Paul McGowan, D-York. He pointed to the nation's most expensive pipeline spill, a tar sands leak in 2010 on the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan. It has cost $1 billion so far to clean up, and 32 miles of the river are permanently polluted, he said.

"Permanently polluted," McGowan repeated, echoing witnesses who testified at a public hearing last week on the proposed moratorium. "It cannot be cleaned up."

In late April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged the State Department to hold tar sands oil to a higher standard of safety than other forms of crude oil.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:


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