Good afternoon Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. My name is Nick Bennett, I reside in Hallowell, and I am the staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. NRCM is Maine’s largest environmental advocacy group with over 16,000 members and supporters. I am testifying in opposition to LD 1494.
NRCM opposes LD 1494 because it eliminates a sensible incentive in Maine law that helps notify the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about oil spills. Currently, Maine law encourages people to report oil and gasoline spills by giving them immunity from fines if they call DEP. This helps DEP make decisions about cleaning up the spill. In past testimony on similar bills in 2003, 2007, and 2011, DEP has strongly supported leaving this incentive in place. In 2011, then Deputy Commissioner Patricia Aho stated:
This incentive to report has served Maine well. It ensures our spill response crews are notified about spills of potential consequence when they occur, and affords them the opportunity to oversee cleanup where appropriate… That said we don’t have a compelling need to know about every drip and drop of oil. If you slightly overfill your lawnmower or chainsaw there is no need to call and no requirement under the law to do so…
Ensuring that DEP knows about oil spills can help protect water quality in Maine. As DEP states on its website: “Even small gasoline spills of a gallon or less can travel surprisingly long distances in the soil and groundwater. Our oil and hazardous materials response team can help you clean up your spill to keep your family safe and protect your property and Maine’s environment.”
For companies that have frequent spills of less than 10 gallons and the expertise to clean them up, DEP also allows Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs). DEP had entered into more than 30 of these MOAs as of 2011 (the last time a bill like this came up). The MOAs typically grant immunity from civil penalties without the need to report spills of less than 10 gallons if companies have appropriate plans and equipment to clean up spills. The companies log their spills and clean up procedures and submit the log to DEP annually.
LD 1494 would allow individuals who spill 10 gallons of oil or gasoline not to report a spill and be completely immune from any fines or penalties even if they severely damage the environment. Ten gallons of oil could destroy a productive clam flat, brook trout stream, or drinking water well. Cleanup requires technical expertise. Existing Maine law does not mandate that anyone call DEP about a spill. It just grants immunity from fines if a spiller does report the spill. That’s a fair exchange, and it has served Maine well.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.