AUGUSTA, Maine — As part of a regulatory reform package passed by the Legislature, the LePage administration has proposed repealing a half-dozen rules that Maine Department of Environmental Protection officials say are outdated or unnecessary.
The rules deal largely with environmental contaminants but, according to the DEP, no longer are needed because of more comprehensive federal and state standards or because the regulated industry no longer exists.
For instance, the administration is proposing to repeal site-specific traffic movement standards because the Maine Department of Transportation already reviews how applications would affect traffic.
The department also has proposed eliminating rules governing air pollutants from portable fuel containers as well as chlorine and chlorine dioxide emission standards because federal standards are more comprehensive.
A rule limiting emissions of sulfur dioxide from sulfite pulp mills, meanwhile, no longer is necessary because the one mill the rule applied to — located in Millinocket — no longer uses the process and is now shuttered.
The department is accepting public comments on the proposals through Aug. 5.
Representatives of several environmental and public health organizations that track public policy issues in Augusta either could not be reached for comment Wednesday or declined to comment on the repeal proposals before reviewing them more thoroughly.
Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, said most of recommendations appear fairly benign. The one proposal Duchesne wants to study further would eliminate limitations on hexavalent chromium, an industrial compound classified by the federal government as a potential occupational carcinogen. The department says guidelines adopted by the Maine Center for Disease Control are more protective than the DEP standards and are more reflective of recent scientific studies.
Duchesne was part of a special legislative committee that worked on LD 1, a bill that made a series of changes intended to reduce red tape and make Maine more business-friendly.
Unanimously endorsed by the Legislature, LD 1 contains a host of changes targeting environmental regulations and the process through which those regulations are adopted and enforced.
For instance, the legislation created a voluntary environmental audit program that offers smaller penalties to companies that discover, correct and self-report violations. The bill also created a special advocate within the Secretary of State’s Office who will help represent businesses in enforcement cases.
The Board of Environmental Protection, meanwhile, will be reduced from 10 to seven members and will only be responsible for the development of major substantive rules, which also are subject to legislative review.
Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the DEP, said allowing the department to handle the drafting of “routine technical” rules — that is, less sweeping measures that do not trigger legislative oversight — should allow the process to move more quickly because issues won’t have to be scheduled around the board’s calendar.
One concern raised during the legislative process is that moving rule-making away from the Board of Environmental Protection may reduce transparency and public accountability. DePoy-Warren said public hearings likely will be held on many of the rule-making proposals. Public comments will be accepted on all proposals.
“This process will still be very transparent,” DePoy-Warren said. “I don’t think Democrats and Republicans would have moved forward with this if it would have reduced transparency.”
Duchesne said he believes it is a good exercise for state government to streamline regulations and eliminate obsolete or unnecessary rules. Through LD 1, the Legislature “gave the horse its reins” by transferring more of the rule-making authority to the department rather than the Board of Environmental Protection.
“How far they go with that is uncertain,” Duchesne said.
The department also will handle more of the licensing and permitting responsibilities under the changes contained in LD 1.
The BEP will be responsible only for licensing and permitting on projects “of statewide significance.” To trigger a board review, projects would have to meet at least three of four criteria: cross municipal and county lines, have environmental impacts in several jurisdictions, involve an activity not previously permitted or licensed, or “is likely to come under significant public scrutiny.”
For information on the half-dozen rule changes, go to http://maine.gov/dep/rulemaking.htm.