Collins signals biomass rules likely to change

Posted Oct. 29, 2010, at 12:25 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Proposed federal rules regarding biomass boilers likely will be changed, removing financial threat to the state’s paper mills, hospitals and schools, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told Maine papermakers Thursday.

Collins spoke at the Maine Pulp and Paper Association’s annual meeting, spending much of her time on the Environmental Protection Agency rules. She also talked about her hopes to make permanent pilot rules that allow heavier trucks on the interstate system in Maine.

The Maine Republican said the EPA’s proposed Maximum Achievable Control Technology, or MACT, rules were the product of “overzealous bureaucrats.” The rules would essentially require the monitoring and scrubbing of emissions from biomass boilers — which many mills have moved to in recent years to get away from fossil fuels, noted Doug Walsh, executive vice president for operations at Lincoln Paper and Tissue. Walsh said that in recent years, Maine mills have spent hundreds of millions investing in biomass boilers.

Collins said that the EPA estimated that it would cost the wood products sector $9.5 billion nationwide to install the technology required under the proposed rules. But an independent analysis put the cost at roughly $21 billion, she said.

And while the federal Department of Energy has been subsidizing operations to convert from fossil fuel to biomass, the EPA is looking to make those operations more expensive, said Collins.

“It’s clearly an example of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing,” said Collins.

Collins said she recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson opposing the changes. The letter was co-signed by 40 other Republican and Democratic senators, said Collins. In a response, Jackson said that the final rules likely would be different from the proposal. Collins said she has also discussed the issue with a key official in the Office of Management and Budget, who told her the administration was “taken aback” by the number of senators who signed onto the letter, and the bipartisan nature of the opposition.

Walsh said the Maine papermakers were hopeful that Collins’ efforts to fight the proposed rules would prove successful.

Collins also spoke on the pilot program that allows trucks of up to 100,000 pounds on the interstate in Maine. The program is due to expire Dec. 17. Congress is set to work on a continuing resolution bill that would continue to fund government operations, and a provision that would extend the weight allowance indefinitely will be in that bill, said Collins.

She shared some benefits from the change in regulations with the audience. A truck taking a one-way trip from Hampden to Houlton along I-95, instead of Route 2, skips 270 intersections and nine school crossings, she said, and saves 50 minutes and $30 in fuel. Having the program in place for a year would save Lincoln Paper and Tissue 120,000 gallons of diesel, she said, and essentially is the same as moving the mill 291 miles closer to its market — the equivalent of relocating to Newton, Mass.

“This is all about competitiveness,” she said.

Collins pointed out that the paper industry in Maine employs 7,800 and puts about $900 million into the economy annually.

“While the economy is changing, the Maine pulp and paper industry remains the backbone of our economy,” she said.

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