When Gov. Baldacci appointed David Littell to take the helm of an environmental agency tarnished by allegations of horse-trading with polluters, Littell promised things would be done differently.
Last week, the Department of Environmental Protection released revised discharge permits for two paper mills on the sadly abused Androscoggin River. The draft permits cut unreasonably lenient compliance schedules that allowed the mills to delay needed pollution reductions.
Data submitted by the International Paper mill in Jay and the Rumford Paper Co. told state regulators that it shouldn’t take 10 years for them to meet water-quality standards for phosphorus, total suspended solids and oxygen levels. In fact, discharge records showed they were meeting two of the three standards already.
IP’s response was to declare the new permits too tough. Company officials immediately began to pressure Baldacci to force Littell to back off. Sadly, they have employed the cynical but time-honored tactic of threatening jobs.
The reaction from Rumford Paper was quite different. No histrionics.
The DEP could have been even tougher. The agency could have required immediate compliance for these problems, which the companies have known about for close to a decade.
It is perfectly legitimate for the mills to challenge the scientific data the DEP used to arrive at the permit limits and to question whether there is a better way to improve the water quality of the Androscoggin River.
It’s unhelpful, however, for IP to immediately resort to economic blackmail by threatening the jobs of some 1,800 employees, including mill workers in Bucksport, which does not discharge into the Androscoggin River.
Littell arrived at the DEP vowing to restore integrity to the process of regulating polluters. Maine’s environment is the better for it.