AUGUSTA, Maine – Today, at a news conference and public hearing, public health and conservation advocates strongly criticized a proposal by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that would roll back pollution standards that protect Maine’s air from harmful smog and other air pollution.
In his final months in office, the LePage Administration is making this last-ditch effort to take 98% of Maine out of the Ozone Transport Region (OTR) agreement among states to reduce air pollution. This agreement helps keep Maine’s air clean and Mainers and our environment healthy by requiring all states from Maine down through Pennsylvania and Maryland to work together to reduce air pollution. Ozone is the form of pollution, commonly known as smog, which harms our lungs.
This regional agreement has helped reduce air pollution and smog in Maine and in states upwind of Maine that blow their air pollution into our state. Maine is sometimes called a “tailpipe” state because our air quality is affected by states upwind of us, as well as by our own sources of pollution.
The proposal would allow new and modified sources of air pollution in most of Maine to emit higher levels of smog-forming pollutants like NOx and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The proposal would also establish arbitrary new divisions within the state, with different pollution control standards in a small part of York County.
Maine has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country. High ozone levels cause the DEP to issue “air quality” alerts that caution Maine people about being physically active outdoors, something that happens several times every summer. These bad air days can be dangerous for anyone, but are especially concerning for those with asthma or other lung disease, as well as small children and older people.
“More than half of Maine residents experienced nearly a month or more of days with unclean air. That is unacceptable,” said Rebecca Boulos, MPH, PhD, Executive Director of the Maine Public Health Association. “We should be doing whatever we can to assure that all Mainers have the opportunity to lead healthy lives — regardless of where they live. DEP’s petition is irresponsible public health policy and MPHA strongly opposes it.”
“If they keep this up, the Maine DEP is going to need a new name; maybe the Department of Encouraging Pollution,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Rolling back Maine’s participation in cleaning up ozone is certainly not in the best interest of Maine people and our environment, and it could very well lead to unraveling regional ozone efforts.”
“Improving Acadia National Park’s air quality requires a regional approach involving multiple states,” said Stephanie Clement, Conservation Director at Friends of Acadia. “Removing most of Maine from the Ozone Transport Region could be the beginning of the unraveling of the partnership on which Acadia’s air quality depends. It sends the wrong signal to other states that Maine is not fully engaged in reducing ground-level ozone.”
The proposal to dramatically weaken Maine’s participation in this successful regional agreement comes at a time when the Trump Administration is working to increase allowable pollution levels across the nation, including from power plants and cars and trucks.
“The timing for this petition could not be worse,” said Voorhees. “Protecting the health of Maine people and our air quality relies on reducing pollution from upwind states. The only way to do that is with national standards or effective regional cooperation. With the Trump Administration drastically weakening so many standards, this is a terrible time to reduce our leverage with neighboring upwind states. This petition tells other states in the region that we want them to reduce air pollution, but we can’t be bothered ourselves. It is cynical and counter-productive.”
In 2013, the DEP petitioned for and was granted an Environmental Protection Agency waiver from NOx pollution requirements under the OTR. (That waiver is about to expire.) A similar petition for a VOC waiver was not granted. Those petitions were opposed by health advocates and others, including other states in the OTR. The current OTR withdrawal petition would effectively create a more permanent exemption for both NOx and VOC pollution. Other OTR states have yet to weigh in on the current proposal.
In drafting the petition, the DEP has tried to argue that pollution from Maine does not affect other states in the OTR. However it has not demonstrated that pollution from within Maine isn’t worsening our own air quality, including at Acadia National Park. The petition claims that OTR withdrawal will not affect pollution controls at existing sources, but it is written to allow new, expanded, and modified sources to pollute more than they are currently allowed.
- Preliminary comments by the Natural Resources Council of Maine in opposition to removing Maine from the Ozone Transport Region (testimony given by NRCM Climate and Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhees)
- Maine Department of Environmental Protection Air Quality Concerns Advisory, June 2018
- Associated Press news story: “Study Links Air Pollution to Drop in National Park Visitors”
- Full remarks of Becca Boulos, Maine Public Health Association
- Full remarks of Stephanie Clement, Friends of Acadia