Governor signs bill to improve air quality by reducing sulfur levels in oil
Today Governor Baldacci signed legislation that will help cut air pollution by reducing the sulfur level allowed in heating oil and related oil products used by industry. Improving air quality continues to be a top concern in Maine. The legislation was a priority for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Environmental Priorities Coalition, and will improve public health, reduce haze pollution, and save Mainers money.
- First, less sulfur pollution will improve air quality and public health across a state with one of the highest rates of lung disease, affecting more than 120,000 citizens, including children with asthma. Maine spends at least $150 million a year due to lung diseases; sulfur and related particulate matter account for a big portion of these preventable public health costs.
- Second, less sulfur pollution will improve visibility by reducing haze along the coast and in the mountains, including at Acadia National Park. Sulfur pollution accounts for about half the state’s haze problem. This was the original purpose of the bill, as part of a national sulfur reduction strategy adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency and many other states.
- Third, lower sulfur levels in home heating oil will save consumers money by reducing maintenance costs and allowing for much more energy-efficient furnaces and boilers.
For decades, NRCM has worked to increase energy efficiency and promote clean, renewable energy, but unfortunately we can’t get rid of fossil fuels overnight. Therefore we need a clear strategy to significantly reduce pollution from burning oil and other fuels. This legislation is particularly valuable because Maine isn’t going solo—every other Northeast state is making similar reductions in sulfur pollution. That’s good news for everyone who breathes in Maine.
As a result of similar efforts in the past, gas stations across Maine today are selling ultra-low sulfur diesel for our cars and trucks. Probably few people noticed this shift—but it is making a difference for our air and our lungs. Lower sulfur fuels are cheaper and more widely available every year, making this kind of regulation common sense.
Maine’s new law requires lower sulfur fuels to be phased in over the next several years, starting with home heating oil, where sulfur levels will drop from today’s levels of over 2,000 parts per million (ppm) to 50 ppm by 2016—then to 15 ppm by 2018. NRCM and other environmental and public health groups helped to broker a compromise with industrial oil users to phase in a sulfur limit of 500 ppm for heavier fuels, which today may contain ten times that amount. Future rulemaking by the Department of Environmental Protection will also give industrial users flexibility to reduce sulfur in other ways.
This is looking like a good week for clean energy here in Maine. Today we start the transition to cleaner fuels, tomorrow Maine commissions its latest commercial wind farm (outside Danforth), and on Wednesday we expect the Efficiency Maine Trust to adopt a comprehensive three-year energy efficiency plan. Each of these efforts represents important progress: renewables, energy efficiency, and cleaner fuels. And each represents a different strategy Maine is using in the transition to a cleaner, healthier economy: appropriate regulations, private-sector clean energy development, and state programs that foster public-private partnerships.