Tom Porter, MPBN staff
Environmental advocates and public health experts faced off against state officials and industry representatives in a public hearing today on a LePage administration proposal to exempt Maine from some anti-smog regulations. The administration wants to limit Maine’s role in a 13-state initiative called the Ozone Transport Region, or OTR. The OTR was established in 1990 as an amendment to the Clean Air Act to require the states – all of them in the Northeast – to meet stricter emissions standards to control pollutants that form ozone, even if they meet the federal ozone standards. Tom Porter has more.
Marc Cone of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Air Quality told the hearing that the OTR treats the entire region – from nothern Virginia to northern Maine – as if it’s not meeting federal standards. Maine, he says, has met these standards for several years now, so it’s unfair to force on it regulations that other, more polluting states have to follow.
“While Maine makes up roughly 18 percent of the geographic area of the ozone transport region, our emissions of VOC and nitrogen oxides are between 3 and 4 percent of the regions total,” Cone said.
The VOC he refers to there are so-called volatile organic compounds, which along with nitrogen oxide, are the gases that primarily contribute to high ozone levels. The high ozone levels that Maine does experience, he says, are the result of pollution being blown in from other states.
Therefore, the argument goes, it’s unfair on Maine’s industrial businesses to force them to comply with standards – through offset credit payments – which they’re not violating. Cone sought to reassure the gathering that the state’s proposal does not equate to a worsening of air quality standards
“This proposal is not a race to the bottom as some might profess,” Cone said. “The proposal is based on strong data and sound science.”
The hearing featured testimony from representatives of Maine’s pulp and paper industry, who said the current regulations are costly and hinder economic growth.
Capital investment in Maine’s paper mills, however, is of little concern to Mark Conley of Raymond – at least when compared to the health of his son, who’s one of the approximately 150,000 Mainers suffering from asthma.
Despite improvements in air quality, Maine still has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, and Conley’s big worry is that the state’s proposal could lead to higher ozone levels and signal a rollback of anti-pollution measures.
“For me, for my child and all the other people I know that have asthma, if we cut back on the requirements to these industries, what’s going to happen to those levels, and that’s my concern.”
Pete Didisheim from the Natural Resources Council says inclusion in the Ozone Transport Region has been to Maine’s benefit, and that the DEP’s proposal sends the wrong message.
“Now we seem to be seeing through DEP’s proposals that we don’t care about regional air pollution control strategies any longer. We essentially want out,” Didisheim said. “This is a mistake. We believe it’s short-sighted and it could come back to bite us if it leads to an unraveling of the OTR.”
Didisheim also criticized a lack of transparency from the state in releasing its proposals – pointing out that the details of waiver requests being discussed were not made publicly available until the day of the public hearing.
The public comment period for this proposal lasts until Sept. 20.