We all despise government regulation.
Until, that is, we have to listen to the neighbor’s barking dog. Or live in the shadow of his too-tall wall. Or downwind of his smoky wood stove.
Which has long been Maine’s position beneath prevailing winds that sweep across America’s industrial heartland and then dump toxins in our waterways and lungs.
Finally, federal regulators are poised to do something about it, and we hope Maine’s elected officials will vigorously support them.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced Thursday the agency is moving forward with tough new air pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants in 28 states.
The measures are expected to save 14,000 to 36,000 lives a year, according to the American Lung Association. They are also expected to save billions by cutting medical care and cleanup costs.
The new regulations will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen oxide by 54 percent. These are the pollutants that form fine-particle pollution and smog.
Sunlight and warm weather turn smog into dangerous ozone, which is particularly debilitating for people with lung and heart diseases.
The Sun Journal recently reported that Maine’s asthma rate is the third highest in the U.S. and the number of people here suffering from the disease is rapidly growing.
Last year, 106,273 adults in Maine were living with asthma, with the highest rates in Cumberland, York, Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin counties.
What’s more, Maine’s asthma rate has increased from 7.3 percent in 2000 to 10.8 percent today.
But the widespread use of cheap coal punishes Maine in another way.
We have the lowest electricity rates in New England, but our rates are still much higher than those in Midwestern states where electricity is largely produced by burning coal.
That puts existing Maine industries at a disadvantage and makes outside companies less likely to relocate here.
For years, Midwestern consumers and businesses have enjoyed lower electric rates by simply dumping their smoky pollutants into the jet stream.
Predictably, members of Congress from the Midwest will fight the new regulations and are already employing the old rhetoric.
We will hear that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is “out of control” and that it is adopting “job-killing” regulations.
That’s baloney. The new regulations have been delayed for years and the U.S. Supreme Court has confirmed the EPA’s authority to impose them.
The annual cost of compliance is estimated to be $800 million, which won’t amount to much when spread over 28 states and millions of customers.
Furthermore, the EPA estimates that every dollar spent on cutting air pollution results in at least $40 saved in medical expenses and cleanup costs.
And nobody can put a price on the thousands of lives that experts say will be saved and the suffering averted.
For decades, Maine and other New England states have been forced to live downwind of another region’s pollution.
That must end.