By Ramona du Houx

May 23, 2010

93e76ed2193ef60c-SULFURVerso Paper Mill, behind Fort Knox, in Bucksport has volunteered to curb sulfur emissions under this new law. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The sulfur content of all fuel oils sold in Maine will be reduced incrementally from 2016 to 2018 by an estimated 60 percent from today’s levels. Under this new law Maine’s air quality will improve dramatically, and haze will be reduced.
The legislation was sponsored by Senator Seth Goodall and signed into law by Governor John E. Baldacci in April. Maine has one of the highest rates of lung disease, affecting more than 120,000 citizens, including children with asthma. Regional health impact studies suggest that Maine can save nearly $150 million in avoided health costs associated with the implementation of this program.

“The resulting cleaner air is good news for all Maine citizens. This is especially beneficial for populations most susceptible to health issues caused by pollution: the young, elderly, asthmatics, and those who have lung or heart problems,” said Governor Baldacci. “Environmental health is part of a healthy economy. You can’t have a healthy economy if you don’t have healthy people. We’re trying to make Maine a place where you can breathe easy. Where our quality of place is second to none. This is an important step.”

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, sulfur emissions are the greatest contributor to poor visibility and particle pollution on bad air days. The DEP also states that sulfur emissions often fall close to their original source.

“Acadia is an important economic engine for Maine. We have 2.5 million visitors a year. On certain days in certain places, if you’re looking out from the mountains you can’t see very far because of the air pollution issues. A lot of it is ambient, coming from pollution from away, but some is generated in the state. This legislation will help improve the quality of visitor experience in the future by allowing air quality to improve,” said David Manski, park ranger in Acadia National Park.

Maine is working with fourteen northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and tribes to pursue coordinated sulfur reduction strategies.

“These states have agreed to implement similar sulfur reductions strategies over the course of the next eight years. By ratcheting down the amount of sulfur content in our oil, we will have ultra-low sulfur, which is a huge health benefit for people,” said Goodall.

In addition, federal laws will require all large upwind, coal-fired power plants to reduce sulfur emissions from their stacks during this same time period.

The sulfur content will start to be reduced in 2016.

“We needed to make sure that the oil market caught up, so the fuels are available, and so they can build facilities to have alternatives,” said Goodall. “We also gave certain facilities an alternative — to use scrubbers to clean the sulfur from their stacks. Which was a positive alternative. We did this because the lower sulfur content fuel is not available to them or it doesn’t fit their facility. We allowed flexibility because our goal is to reduce the amount of sulfur that’s deposited in the air we breathe.”

Lower sulfur levels in home heating oil will save consumers money by reducing maintenance costs and allows for more energy-efficient furnaces and boilers.

“Not only could we improve the air quality, we could also improve our security, especially for our home heating oil companies that want to diversify. Many businesses want to sell and install higher energy efficient oil burning furnaces. This will allow them to do that,” said Goodall. “Oil-efficient furnaces require lower sulfur content oil to burn. We don’t have efficient oil in the state for these furnaces. This law makes it possible for people to install high-efficiency energy furnaces, knowing they will have the right oil supplied in the state.”

The new law: An Act to Improve Maine’s Air Quality and Reduce Regional Haze at Acadia National Park and Other Federally Designated Class I Areas, was supported by a large group of stakeholders.

“Senator Goodall is a wonderful chair of his committee, and did a wonderful job leading this effort. He worked in a bipartisan fashion with the industries, the environmental community, and all the stakeholders to come to a consensus. It’s a great example where public interests can work together with private interest for the good of Maine,” said the governor.

“Having the Maine energy makers, the oil dealers, the paper industry, environmental organizations, Maine’s tribes, along with the Legislature, working together collaboratively, is a great approach to achieve successful results for Maine. We accomplish much more working collaboratively,” said Goodall. “I just wanted to champion clean air for Maine.”