With its small, scenic fishing towns and craggy coastline, Maine might not seem like it has much in common with Los Angeles. But according to the American Lung Association’s most recent “State of the Air” report card, four counties in this somewhat sparsely populated state received C’s or D’s.
That’s why Gov. LePage’s recent push to get the state exempted from certain anti-smog regulations has taken many by surprise.
Maine is currently part of a 13-state initiative designed to curb the production of smog under the Clean Air Act. Since 1990, Maine has been classified as part of an Ozone Transport Region. This means that smog-producing industries in Maine must purchase credits from other businesses within the region. Much like RGGI, (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) seeks to reduce climate-altering pollution on a regional scale, this agreement was designed to curb nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, VOCs, throughout the 13-state area. LePaige’s proposal would permit a waiver for VOCs.
On Tuesday, Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves sent a letter to LePage, protesting the proposal.
“Your proposals to lift these public health and environmental standards would allow polluters in Maine to meet the lowest possible emission rate requirements, breaking with our long-held agreement with 12 other regional partners that has effectively reduced smog in the Northeast,” wrote Eves and Alfond. “The agreement, part of revisions to the Clean Air Act, passed by Congress in 1990, has been a successful partnership to improve air quality in Maine and throughout the region. How can we expect our neighboring states to play by the rules and be accountable if we are unwilling to hold ourselves to the same standards?”
The LePage administration argues that the changes would promote economic development and exempt the state from prevention mandates for a problem it isn’t causing. Most of the smog in Maine comes from states that are upwind, in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.
“Maine might not be causing the air quality problems,” said Pete Didsheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resource Council of Maine. “But it’s best for Maine to have a clean hands approach and not call on other stets upwind of us to do anything that we wouldn’t be doing ourselves. Maine has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the OTR agreement. Pollution drifts up our way, if we start to unravel this system, it will set a dangerous precedent for other states that do have a big influence on the quality of our air. “
Opponents of the proposal are also upset at what they see as the secretive way in which the Governor’s office and the Department of Environmental Protection have gone about crafting this exemption.
“We feel like they tried to sneak this through without a public hearing and without bringing this very substantial policy proposal out in the open,” said Didsheim. “They have now conceded and will hold a hearing on September 10, where those who think this is not a good strategy for Maine can have their say.”