Statement of Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Project Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine
NRCM news release
NRCM is deeply disappointed in today’s Board of Environmental Protection vote, which would allow the Dragon Cement Company in Thomaston to increase its emissions of toxic mercury by 70%, reversing nearly two decades of work by Maine to reduce mercury emissions and protect the health of Maine people and our natural resources.
Dragon Cement Company’s request flies in the face of Maine’s law to limit mercury, and the state’s Mercury Action Plan too. Maine joined with the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in adopting the action plan, the goal of which is the virtual elimination of anthropogenic mercury emissions.
In recommending support for this request from the Spanish-owned Dragon Cement Company, DEP is effectively surrendering the state’s ability to limit mercury emissions at Dragon, allowing the plant to pollute at the highest level permitted nationwide.
Mercury emissions are a significant environmental and health hazard in Maine. The risks of mercury are well documented, as noted by the Department’s own Mercury Reduction Report. These hazards include impacts to the nervous, respiratory and immune systems, particularly for children and developing fetuses. Because of this risk, and as a result of the legacy of mercury pollution, state health officials warn residents to limit their consumption of fish caught in all of Maine’s inland waters.
Dragon’s cement facility is the elephant in the room when it comes to mercury pollution in Maine. It put at least 13 lbs. of toxic mercury per year into Maine’s environment in 2011-2012. That may not sound like much, but, over time, just one gram of mercury in the air deposited in a 20-acre lake each year, can contaminate the fish in that lake and 13 pounds is almost 6,000 grams.
The next largest emitters are trash incinerators, ecomaine and PERC, which each emit 8-10 and 3 lbs. per year. There is no reason that Maine should not require Dragon to install widely available control technologies such as activated carbon injection or wet scrubbers. To do so would be the equivalent of eliminating Maine’s third largest single source of mercury pollution.
But, instead the DEP has proposed and BEP has voted to allow Dragon to at least double the amount of mercury it puts into Maine’s environment, and potentially emit as much as seven times as much as its 2011-2012 emission levels. That’s the wrong direction for Maine, whether you look at the clear intention of Maine law or at the need to protect public health, natural resources and the economy.
The reality of mercury contamination in Maine hit home once again this year when the state outlawed lobster and clam harvesting in a 7-mile stretch of the Penobscot River due to hazardous levels of mercury contamination in shellfish from industrial pollution. A February 23 editorial from the Portland Press Herald put it succinctly:
The notion that Maine’s lobsters could be unsafe to eat, or that Maine air and water might not be clean, could be devastating to those industries. Far from being bad for business, environmental regulation is essential for business to succeed, especially the kinds of businesses that Maine depends on… The next time we hear a politician complain about too much regulation, we should all remember this situation and reflect on how much trouble good regulation can avoid.
The BEP voted to allow Dragon Cement to send more than 70% more toxic mercury into Maine’s environment than the factory’s actual mercury emissions in 2011-2012 is simply not good regulation.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s analysis, actual mercury emissions from Dragon for 2011-2012 were estimated using two different methods neither of which showed emissions exceeding 25 lbs. per year. A third method applied using 2007 data also showed emissions well below 25 lbs. per year.
Why did the DEP sanction a limit of 42 lbs. per year, which is 70% higher? We understand that production at Dragon could conceivably increase in the future, but that does not justify this excessive proposed increase.
The Department’s draft Findings of Fact clearly show that there are options for reducing mercury emissions below current levels and the BEP voted today to reject these options, primarily because they cost money. However, the BEP failed to even consider the cost of not controlling this pollution, and this this cost could easily dwarf the cost of controls. Think of the cost to the health of people and wildlife, and cost to our lobster fishery, tourism industry and the Maine “brand.”
In fact, the draft findings identified and analyzed two widely available control technologies that would reduce emissions at Dragon to just over 10 lbs. per year from its 2011-2012 emissions of about 13 lbs. per year.
In 2013, the DEP recommended that the Legislature change the law to specifically allow cement facilities to pollute more than Maine law allowed – to allow mercury pollution at the highest levels permitted nationwide – but the Legislature declined this recommendation. This is further evidence that it is contrary to the intent of Maine lawmakers to allow Dragon Cement to emit 70% more toxic mercury pollution than is allowed by Maine law, simply because it could meet weaker federal standards and controlling pollution would require an investment by the company.