Aerial view of the Sprague Energy tank farm in South Portland in 2013. FILE

A new bill requiring more monitoring of oil tank farm emissions has made it through committee in Augusta, and at least one activist pushing for more control of tank farm emissions in South Portland said she couldn’t be happier.

“We’re pleased that this is in process,” said Roberta Zuckerman, a coordinator with Protect South Portland, a local environmental protection activist organization. “It’s a very important issue.”

The bill, LD 163, passed through the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee on May 24, and now goes to the House and Senate for a full vote. It specifically addresses above-ground petroleum storage tanks with a capacity greater than 39,000 gallons. Owners of such tanks, according to the bill, would be required to collect emission test data twice a year and report it to state officials. The other key provision provides that owners of such tanks “must implement a fenceline monitoring program, designed and operated by a qualified independent third-party entity.”

The South Portland City Council created a group, the Clean Air Advisory Committee, in September 2019 after the federal Environmental Protection Agency revealed that Global Partners, LLC, which operates several above-ground oil storage tanks in the city, had violated the Clean Air Act. Later, the city learned there were also emission issues with the Sprague Energy tanks, . located near the city’s Ligonia neighborhood, east of Route 1 and north of Billy Vachon Street.

The local committee, which presented its findings to the council in March, found that there were unacceptable levels of some toxic chemicals in the air near the tanks, but said more study and data were required to confirm the chemicals were coming from tank emissions. The committee recommended, among other measures, requiring fenceline monitoring, and Rep. Victoria Morales, D-South Portland, one of the LD 163’s supporters, said the bill’s language comes in part directly from the clean air committee’s recommendations.

“It’s really a win for South Portland,” Morales said.

The clean air committee’s report showed elevated levels of naphthalene in the air at key locations in the city, which could mean a potential long-term elevated cancer risk. This week, Morales said the bill, if passed, will required collection of data that will more accurately measure the potential long-term impact of the tank farm emissions on human health.

“It really gives us a full year of data,” she said.

Zuckerman called the new bill “a very good first step” toward pinpointing exactly what risks exist, especially for people who live near the tanks and can smell the emissions.

“Their health could potentially be seriously impacted by these emissions, these chemicals,” she said.

Critics of the bill, in testimony before the legislative committee, argued that the proposed regulation is expensive and could lead to higher prices for consumers. They also said other evidence suggests the tank farm owners in South Portland are not to blame for elevated chemical levels.

International Liquid Terminals Association’s Kathryn Clay said that the state Department of Environmental Protection had discovered similarly high levels of naphthalene in the air in Presque Isle, where there are no petroleum storage tanks.

“Most airborne emissions of naphthalene result from combustion (not storage of petroleum products), and key sources are tailpipe emissions from vehicles,” she wrote.

Mark Anderson, safety manager for Dead River Company, said his company has similar storage facilities in Calais and other communities that have not caused any problems over the years.

“In the history of Dead River Company, we have never received odors complaints from any of these types of tanks,” he wrote. “We track and work diligently to be sure we are compliant, and that our facilities are properly maintained and in safe working order.”

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