ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — A group of state legislators hopes to clear the air — literally.
Led by state Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, the lawmakers met with park officials and others Tuesday afternoon to announce that they intend to clear the air over Acadia and the rest of the state by reducing the amount of sulfur that can be contained in residential and industrial heating fuel by 2018.
The bill, submitted by Goodall, is part of an effort involving 14 states in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic aimed at reducing sulfur in heating fuel used in residential and commercial buildings.
The effort is in response to a mandate from the federal government to reduce pollution that affects visibility in national parks and wilderness areas, he said. In or near Maine, those areas include Acadia, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge near Calais, and Roosevelt Campobello International Park on Campobello Island in New Brunswick.
Most heating fuels used in Maine homes and businesses have sulfur content of 2,000 to 3,000 parts per million, Goodall said. The bill, if enacted, would start sulfur reductions in 2014 and, by 2018, set a cap for sulfur of only 15 parts per million, he said. By comparison, the sulfur content of diesel fuel is now 15 parts per million.
By reducing the amount of sulfur allowed in heating fuel, the state will take action to help protect Maine’s tourist economy, which in areas like Acadia is dependent on clean air and pristine views. It also should help improve the general health of Mainers, he said.
“This is an important day for Acadia’s environment,” Goodall said, standing under an open pagoda that leads to the park’s visitor center. “This bill will have significant impacts on the local economy. I would argue that it would save consumers money over time.”
Jamie Py, president of Maine Energy Marketers Association, said Tuesday that the association supports reducing sulfur in heating oil. Contacted by phone after the announcement, Py said reductions in sulfur levels would benefit consumers and would have only a minor effect on suppliers.
Py said MEMA supports an earlier deadline for reducing sulfur in heating fuel. The group has endorsed setting new limits by 2011, several years earlier than Goodall’s proposal, he said.
In previous years, there was a concern about the supply of low-sulfur fuel, Py said, but since the federal government established low limits for sulfur in diesel fuel, the supply of low-sulfur fuel has increased greatly. The consumption of diesel fuel is much greater than the consumption of heating fuel, he said.
In addition, the expected cost increase of producing low-sulfur heating fuel is minimal, according to Py. The cost may increase by 1 cent, but the benefit to consumers of being able to use more efficient equipment and having to do less maintenance of that equipment will outweigh any fuel price impact, he said.
“We think customers deserve a better fuel,” Py said. “It actually will save people money in the long run.”
Acadia’s superintendent, Sheridan Steele, said the proposal is important to the park’s future. Steele was on hand at the visitor center as Goodall’s bill was announced.
“Air quality means a lot to our visitors,” he said, noting that the summit of Cadillac Mountain is one of the top draws for the millions of people who visit the park each year. “There are some days where those views are not so good.”
The advocacy group Friends of Acadia also praised the move to help reduce sulfur emissions.
“People come to Maine for its clean, natural environment,” Stephanie Clement, the group’s conservation director, said at the event. “We want to make sure that continues for future generations.”
Also at the announcement were state Reps. Robert Eaton, D-Sullivan; Brian Langley, R-Ellsworth; and James Schatz, D-Blue Hill.