The state Department of Environmental Protection wants to back out of a 13-state regional effort to control smog pollution, saying that it places undue burdens on Maine businesses that aren’t the primary source of such emissions. Environmental activists are up in arms about the proposed change to Maine’s air-quality standards, warning that such a move threatens public health and safety, especially for the elderly, children, and people already in poor health.
Currently, Maine is a member of the Ozone Transport Region, a multi-state agreement established under the Clean Air Act to reduce the ground-level ozone produced when certain types of pollution, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), react with heat and sunlight. Ground-level ozone, the main component of smog, has been linked to respiratory problems, asthma, and weakened immune systems. This type of pollution, produced by industrial facilities, car exhaust, and chemical solvents, can travel long distances on the wind, requiring states to team up on mitigation efforts.
According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Maine is currently in compliance with all ozone standards; in addition, because Maine is downwind of other states in the OTR, our emissions do not contribute to noncompliance (referred to as “nonattainment”) in other areas of the OTR. In other words, Maine emissions aren’t contributing to high levels of ground-level ozone in, say, Connecticut. In fact, according to an analysis done by the state Bureau of Air Quality, Maine contributed just 3.6 percent of NOx and VOC emissions in the OTR during 2008.
For this reason, the DEP is requesting to “opt-out” from certain pollution requirements, so that major new or newly upgraded sources of NOx and VOCs “would no longer be subject to the requirement to obtain emissions offsets and meet lowest achievable emission rate requirements.” This, the DEP claims, would help businesses that want to expand but cannot afford to reduce or offset their emissions.
In an email, DEP communications director Jessamine Logan further explained the state’s position: “The State of Maine supports the regional approach to controlling the emissions which are precursors to ground-level ozone formation . . . Unfortunately, Maine is faced with a basic equity problem,” in that its industrial polluters are subject to the same standards as sources in other states, “even though Maine is meeting the ozone [standards] and has repeatedly demonstrated that emissions from Maine sources do not cause or contribute to nonattainment in any other area.” So, Maine should be able to pollute more freely, because our pollution isn’t the problem, basically.
Unsurprisingly, several of Maine’s environmental advocacy organizations are calling foul.
For one thing, they say notice of the DEP proposal was “hidden” on the agency’s website in a posting “that was extremely difficult for any member of the interested public to find,” according to a press release.
“The public has a right to know and should have the opportunity to voice their opinions about any attempt to weaken the state’s hard-won clean air health standards,” said Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club’s Maine chapter. (Not to mention that this is in our blood: Maine political legends Ed Muskie and George Mitchell were instrumental in passing the 1970 and 1990 versions of the Clean Air Act.) He suggests that the DEP downplayed the notice because “they were aware the public would be outraged.”