Other New England states that follow clean-air rules will not, and should not, abide by rules that benefit Maine if we choose to ignore them ourselves.
That fact seems to have escaped the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Without any public announcement of its intentions, the DEP wants to weaken a key provision of long-standing air pollution agreements by 13 northeastern states, according to the Portland Press Herald.
The DEP changes would exempt new or upgraded industrial polluters in Maine from measures designed to reduce ozone pollution, some of which floats across state borders.
The rules significantly benefit Maine since prevailing winds from elsewhere tend to carry life- and health-threatening pollution to our doorstep.
For years, Maine’s coast and Acadia National Park were socked in for days by high levels of ozone pollution. The frequency of such ozone warning days has greatly diminished in recent years.
Breathing ozone can result in respiratory distress, reduced lung function, airway inflammation, increased hospital admission and increased mortality, especially among older adults, according to the U.S. EPA.
Higher ozone levels are particularly difficult for the roughly 8 percent of the American public suffering from asthma.
While the administration of Gov. Paul LePage generally touts its pro-business agenda, the Maine EPA did not announce it was seeking the rule change and buried any reference to it on its website.
Patricia Aho, LePage’s DEP commissioner, formerly represented — as a lawyer and lobbyist — chemical and drug companies, as well as Casella Waste and Florida Power and Light.
Since taking office, Aho and LePage have tried to roll back a series of regulations to benefit her former clients, with mixed results.
The proposed air quality change would revise Maine’s air quality regulations so that "major new and newly modified stationary sources of ozone precursors would no longer be subject to the requirement to obtain emissions offsets and meet lowest achievable emission rate requirements."
The Maine EPA argues that most ozone generated by Maine drifts away from rather than into the other states in the air pollution compact.
In other words, the other states would be unaffected as the increased ozone from Maine drifts into Canada and out to sea.
That thinking is challenged in the Press Herald story by Ron Severance, who ran the DEP’s air bureau for 15 years.
"From a practical point of view, it’s going to mean a worsening of public health," Severance said. "It’s going to allow higher levels of ozone back into the state again."
But Severance notes that Maine is on the "verge of knocking back over into non-attainment" and that the U.S. EPA has more stringent standards in the works which Maine could not meet.
The purpose of the multi-state agreement was to keep states from blaming each other for pollution, or from trying to keep or preserve an economic advantage by allowing more pollution.
The U.S. has taken great strides to improve air and water quality, but nearly every step forward has been challenged by pollution-producing industries.
Today, we are breathing air that is dirtier than it should be because the Obama administration has failed to enforce environmental standards on Southern and Mid-Western coal-fire electric plants.
Dumping their pollution on New England has been an economic advantage for them in the form of lower electric power rates, something that has rightfully irked our governor.
The solution to pollution is to enforce the same rules on all industries in every state so the competitive playing field is as level as possible.
There is no reason other states should be paying less for power while we pay more for health care.
Maine and its governor should be demanding enforcement of existing standards in other states rather than seeking special exemptions that will result in dirtier air.
At the very least, the Maine EPA should set hearings to allow for public comment on this proposal.