Ozone is harmful, sometimes deadly, pollutant. Maine has worked with 11 other states to our west and south to successfully reduce ozone levels. But the pollutant remains problematic, especially in the summer when the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issues warnings about high ozone levels encouraging people at risk for respiratory distress to limit outdoor activities or to stay indoors.
The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that ozone causes respiratory harm, such as worsening asthma and COPD, and is likely to shorten the lives of some people. It is likely to contribute to heart attacks and strokes and may contribute to reproductive and developmental problems, according to the agency’s assessment.
So a proposal from the DEP that most of Maine leave the Ozone Transport Region is a move in the wrong direction. The state’s petition to the EPA to remove most of Maine from the region reads more like a reiteration of the LePage and Trump administration’s ideological opposition to government regulations than a scientific case that Maine’s air quality no longer needs the protection the regional program offers. A portion of York County and Acadia National Park, places have the most frequent ozone warnings, would remain in the region under the DEP plan, which is the subject of a public hearing on Monday in Augusta.
Gov. Paul LePage started his time as governor with a pledge to reduce government regulations. It its petition, the state cites examples it says show that Maine lost business because of the ozone rules. In one example, it says a pellet manufacturing plant would have to meet emissions standards as part of its wood drying process. The DEP writes that the facility was never constructed but it doesn’t give any specific reason that the facility was not built.
In another example, the DEP wrote that ozone rules were “among other factors” that caused a pulp and paper facility in Old Town to close. At the time of the 2015 decision, officials with Expera Specialty Solutions blamed the closure on the declining value of the Canadian dollar, excess pulp supply in the marketplace and relatively expensive wood costs in Maine. An industry official cited the need for lowering energy and transportation costs and property taxes and ending unfair trade practices.
Beyond this misrepresentation of the impact on businesses, the ozone rules are working and withdrawing Maine from the regional program would likely cause a host of consequences, including increased emissions of ozone-causing pollutants, that would harm Maine people.
Maine produces pollutants that contribute to ozone pollution within its borders, but most of the airborne pollutants are blown into the state from states to our west and south. Working with those states to reduce their emissions benefits Maine and its residents.
Maine meets air quality standards because of pollution control technology used both within the state and by the other states in the Ozone Transport Region. New and expanded facilities in the region that emit nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, the precursors to ozone, have to meet higher standards that similar facilities outside the region face. The system works because all participating states must follow the same rules.
If Maine leaves and allows new and expanding facilities to pollute more, other states can reasonably argue that they shouldn’t have to meet the regional requirements either. This would result in more ozone pollution in Maine, a huge step backward.
This petition is not in the best interest of Maine and should be withdrawn.
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Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said that Maine had joined other states in the Ozone Transport Region in asking the EPA to add nine additional states to the region. Maine did not join this effort.