AUGUSTA – In what environmental activists called “a big loss for clean air,” the Board of Environmental Protection on Thursday denied a request that it take over regulation of Wyman Power Station air emissions from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine had asked the citizen environmental board to take jurisdiction over the power plant’s pending emissions permit, and to hold a public hearing. The environmental group claimed that interested parties had not been given ample opportunity to make the case for stricter regulation of sulfur dioxide, an air pollutant produced by the oil-fueled plant, which is located on Cousins Island in Casco Bay in Yarmouth.
“It’s important that the board see what’s going on,” said Sue Jones, energy project director for NRCM. “We want people to get the chance to tell you how they feel … what it’s like to live with soot falling on their houses.”
Jones on Thursday called Wyman Station “the dirtiest power plant in Maine,” citing 1999 data from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency showing it was responsible for nearly 44 percent of all the sulfur dioxide produced in Maine.
She said Acadia National Park advocates have blamed Wyman Station emissions for some of the high pollution levels measured on Mount Desert Island.
Dr. Paul Liebow, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and an emergency room doctor at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, said before the BEP hearing that reducing sulfur dioxide emissions at Wyman “is long overdue.”
“Acid rain destroys the forests and rivers of Down East Maine. The pollutants we breathe over a lifetime slowly destroy the lungs of Maine people I see daily at work in the emergency room,” Liebow said at a news conference.
The plant relies primarily on fuel quality to control its emissions, so NRCM’s Jones argued that the company could easily reduce the problem by shifting to fuel with a lower sulfur content.
“There’s very little capturing what’s happening between the burners, the sky and the air that we breathe,” Jones said. “The DEP has broad legal authority to [regulate] any pollutant that affects public health,” she said.
But despite a lack of expensive pollution-control technology, the FPL Energy-owned plant has met the “best practical treatment” standard required by Maine law, said Marc Cone of the DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality. Wyman Station has met Maine’s environmental standards for both the level of sulfur in its fuel and for air quality, Cone said.
Dixon Pike, an attorney who addressed the board on behalf of FPL Energy, argued that state authority for regulating emissions lies in these standards, and that using a permit review to create new, stricter sulfur dioxide restrictions for Wyman Power and Light would overstep the board’s authority.
Pike called the NRCM’s attempt “an end run around the standard” and argued that accepting the environmental group’s request would set a dangerous precedent.
Accusations of procedural errors, both on the part of the department and NRCM, complicated Thursday’s lengthy debate, but in the end, the board took Cone’s advice and decided unanimously to leave the Wyman Station permit in DEP hands. The permit, which allows existing sulfur dioxide pollution levels to continue, could be granted as early as today.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.