For the last 27 years, I’ve worked in the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Air Quality with the majority of my time in the licensing division. I’ve worked closely with private industry and know the stringent controls businesses must have in place to comply with state and federal rules and regulations.
It is because of this work with the private sector that our air is clean and, in fact, in the last 10 years we have seen a 20-50 percent reduction in pollutant levels. The people of Maine should be proud of this and be assured that Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is working hard to ensure our air is clean without placing unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses if those regulations have no tangible environmental benefit.
Maine DEP has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and early this summer we solicited comments and held a public hearing on our request to change Maine’s pollution requirements for Volatile Organic Compounds and nitrogen oxides. Simply put, the current standard makes expanding or adding efficient technology in Maine unattractive to investors. If EPA grants the requests and they are approved through state rulemaking, our mills and other emission sources would still have to follow strict controls on what they emit. It would allow for Maine to be on a level playing field with other states that also attain the federal air standards.
I recently had the opportunity to represent Maine at an Ozone Transport Region meeting and discussed our department’s request with my colleagues. The OTR is a multistate organization created by the Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990 and treated the northeast region of the United States, ranging from northern Virginia through the entire state of Maine, as not attaining federal standards whether a state was in attainment or not. What this means is that Presque Isle, an area that has been in attainment for ozone pollution as long as we have monitored it, is treated similarly to areas around New York or Boston.
Now the entire state of Maine is in attainment, but we still operate under the standards for states whose air is dirty. We submitted a request to EPA because the CAAA also allows for states like Maine, whose air is clean, to make changes to our licensing requirements.
Frankly, if approved and adopted by the state, the control technology that would have to be used would allow for greater flexibility and could have greater environmental benefits. It would mean the ability for sources to use Best Available Control Technology, a case-by-case determination of pollution control systems accounting for energy, environmental and economic impacts of the system. In some cases the current pollution controls might not be the environmentally best solution because they do not assess the entire environmental impact.
Critics have assumed incorrectly that if federal standards are reduced in the future, Maine would not be in attainment. The department has strong reasons to believe that future state and federal pollution requirements will mean Maine will continue to meet current and future federal air quality standards. For example, the southern part of the state will no longer require a boutique fuel, which will result in lower emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds and nitrogen oxides from cars and trucks. In the future EPA will require cleaner gasoline, lower tailpipe emissions, higher mileage standards and additional requirements for power plants, and Maine will see benefits from the greenhouse gas rules. Frankly, if Maine does not remain in attainment, we would revert back to the current requirements.
After speaking with my colleagues at the OTR, they understand why we sought these requests. The reality is that, if executed, our proposal would not impact any OTR state or Maine’s ability to have clean air.
Throughout my career, I have seen that investments drive better environmental performance. New equipment creates more efficient operations and means fewer environmental impacts. Keeping our current environmental and economic barrier would hinder Maine’s opportunities for cleaner facilities and stagnate our growth.
If EPA approves these waivers, it is my wish for support from legislators and the public during the rulemaking process. It’s the right thing to do for the economy and the right thing to do for the environment.
Marc Cone is director of the Bureau of Air Quality at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.