U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin won praise from the environmental community Tuesday when he announced his opposition to a bill that seeks to delay the implementation of stricter ozone standards.

The Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017, which passed 229-199 Tuesday evening with Poliquin and 10 other Republicans against it, is similar to a nearly identical measure that Poliquin and 9 other House Republicans opposed in 2016. The bill passed 234-177 in the House in 2016 but went on to fail in the Senate, where this year’s bill is now headed.

The 2017 act, which has been dubbed the Smoggy Skies Act by its opponents, would delay new ozone standards developed in 2008 and 2015 for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards and loosen review standards for a variety of air pollutants. It would also change criteria for pollution determinations from being based on protecting public health to consideration of “technological feasibility.”

Poliquin said it goes too hard against important air quality standards.

“We have come a long way in Maine in making significant improvements in our environmental standards that have enhanced the quality of our air and environment,” said Poliquin in a written statement. “It’s time our nation moves forward in implementing these air quality protections for future generations of Mainers.”

Poliquin has a spotty environmental record, according to some environmental groups. The League of Conservation Voters gives him a lifetime score of 21 out of 100 on its National Environmental Scorecard and he receives similarly low rankings on environmental issues from votesmart.com.

However, Emmie Theberge, the federal project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Tuesday that Poliquin is in tune with ozone’s harmful influence on the air quality in Maine. Maine has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, with 11.7 percent of adults afflicted. That’s compared with a national average of less than 9 percent.

“It’s great that he is coming out early and saying he is going to vote against this,” said Theberge. “This is a very positive statement from him. Having strong ozone standards is a really important issue for Maine.”

Theberge said the timing of Tuesday’s vote coincided with House members’ consideration of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which includes a rider that also would delay the new ozone standards. Trump proposed cutting funding for the agency by more than 30 percent, which Theberge said would threaten federally funded jobs in the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and slash local programs across the state.

“There are a lot of really bad environmental riders in that House budget bill,” she said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree is a member of the House Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, which was working on a markup of the EPA budget on Tuesday Her spokeswoman, Victoria Bonney, said in response to questions from the Bangor Daily News that Pingree opposes the the rider in the budget bill that would block new ozone standards and plans to support an amendment to eliminate it, though Bonney said the overall Smoggy Skies Act is still likely to pass in the House.

“You all have heard me say before that ‘Maine is at the end of the tailpipe,’ and we really feel that way during hot summers when we are faced with days of high ozone levels,” Pingree said in her remarks prepared in support of the amendment. “The rider in today’s bill would mean that my state is left with more dirty air spewing from the nation’s tail pipe for Mainers to breathe for many years.“

Poliquin also received praise for a vote he took last week in favor of a defense bill provision that supports a study on climate change and its impact on national defense.

“While he maybe hasn’t been as strong on the environment as we had hoped in some regards, these are definitely two votes in two weeks that we appreciate,” said Theberge.


Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.