Maine’s proposal to ease anti-smog regulations has faced criticism from Delaware and New York as it is seen undermining the alliance formed by 12 states and the District of Columbia to control cross-border ozone pollution.
The proposal is seeking to remove what Maine state and industry officials claim are hindrances to economic growth without really improving the air quality. New York and Delaware have submitted letters to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency to urge the EPA not to approve the proposal, which will be ruled on by the end of the year.
“At a time when we should be focused on improving air quality and having consistent standards across all the states that contribute to our air quality problems, we believe this is a step in the wrong direction,” said Collin O’Mara, head of Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, to the Portland Press Herald.
One of the requirements Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is aiming to remove is that industrial companies must buy offsets to compensate for additional volatile organic compounds generated by new plants.
Republican State Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton, who is the environmental compliance officer at Maine paper mills, believes that the rules are unnecessary and blocking paper mill investments and new sawmills from coming to Maine.
“This is just one more hurdle to take out of the way that gives our state a chance to grow,” said Saviello.
If the LePage administration is successful in getting the proposal approve they will be removing regulations that were created under the Clean Air Act in the 1990’s, which is followed by 13 governments in the Ozone Transport Region.
“We’re not anticipating higher levels of ozone in our state due to these changes – or in other states,” said Marc Cone, director of the DEP’s Air Bureau.
Smog crossing over borders into other states makes it difficult for a state to meet EPA ozone requirements; for example, Maryland estimates that 70 percent of its air pollution is from outside their region.
Maine’s proposal claims that smog emissions will not affect other states abilities to meet air quality requirements in the Ozone Transport Region.
“We oppose this action because there are errors in the analysis that Maine relied upon to draw the conclusion that this action would not affect air quality in other states,” said Lisa King, spokeswoman for New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Under the Clean Air Act, Maine must be able to demonstrate that any changes made would better the air quality, which it has yet to do.
Despite criticisms, Cone supports his department’s models and estimates, and believes that Maine’s action to remove certain requirements might actually encourage more states to join the Ozone Transport Region.
“A lot of states are kind of scared to join … but might not be if there was this opportunity for them to recognize that there is flexibility for some of its provisions, and that everything isn’t going to be crammed down their throat,” said Cone.
The Portland Press Herald obtained documents through a public records request showing that changes to the anti-smog regulations were made a top priority at the DEP Air Bureau’s 2013 work plan after a wood pellet facility in Woodland said they were concerned about cost of offsets for volatile organic compounds.