AUGUSTA – Saying he couldn’t understand how the former commissioner approved such lenient pollution rules for International Paper, DEP Commissioner David Littell said Thursday that science ought to determine how much phosphorous IP dumps into the Androscoggin River.
“We’re asking for an opportunity to have a fresh start and set it right,” Littell told the Board of Environmental Protection.
Three people from his Department of Environmental Protection were at the Jay paper mill as he spoke, collecting data that could lead to more stringent rules.
In September 2005, the board issued wastewater discharge permits to IP, NewPage paper mill in Rumford and the Livermore Falls Wastewater Treatment Facility, and a water quality certificate to Florida Power and Light for its hydropower dam on the river.
All four groups have appealed something about their permit or certificate. At issue Thursday: whether to rethink all four, rethink just IP’s or carry ahead with the appeals.
Littell supported tackling only the Jay mill, for now.
There’s no reason to believe the other permits are “grossly out of sync from where they should be,” he said. In the Jay mill permit, “there are permit limits I don’t think I can defend – I can’t defend. I can’t figure out why they were written that leniently.”>/p>
Steve Hinchman, staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, said that under the new permit, IP is limited to discharging 130 pounds of phosphorous a day by 2015.
In 2004, when all of the mill’s machines were up, it released 137 pounds a day.
“You don’t need 10 years to clean up the river, you can do it in one,” Hinchman said.
The Androscoggin River’s been the subject of intense interest in the last year, as lawmakers and environmentalists struggle to make it clean enough to meet the barest requirements under the Clean Water Act.
After four hours of testimony from lawyers on all sides of the issue, the board ultimately invited Littell back in June to offer a new permit proposal.
DEP counsel Jerry Reid, an assistant attorney general, called the opportunity a chance to restore credibility in the agency.
Former Commissioner Dawn Gallagher resigned this winter after it was disclosed she may have tried to negotiate closed-door deals with IP.
Jamie Kilbreth, counsel for IP, said any change could set a bad precedent.
“This is a preordained train wreck, this is wrong,” he said. “This is unlawful, and if we have to go to court to argue this we will. … Mr. Littell’s absolutely right, we can meet the 10-year (goal) today – we can shut down some paper machines.”
Assistant Attorney General Jeff Pidot, the board’s counsel, said that in 30 years of law he’d “never seen a regulatory morass like this.”
He told Kilbreth: “You may love this new permit.”
To which Kilbreth replied: “I think it’s unlikely.”