Clearing the Air in Portland Maine
A federal-approved court settlement announced late yesterday requires stronger anti-smog measures in the Portland, Maine, area. The agreement provides for new limits on pollution from industrial facilities and power plants, and on fumes from paints and consumer products. It also would strengthen the state's commitment to require the sale of low-emission vehicles that meet the same standards as required in California.
The settlement came in a suit by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club to address Portland's continued violation of clean air standards for ozone, a severe lung irritant that is particularly dangerous to children, persons with asthma, and senior citizens. Elevated ozone levels have been linked to increased hospital and emergency room visits, and symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, and pulmonary congestion.
"This settlement is welcome news for everyone who breathes the air in the Portland area," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "Just by being outside, Portland residents are exposed to ozone at levels that can cause serious health problems, especially for children, senior citizens, and asthmatics. The pollution cuts required by this agreement will mean healthier air for everyone."
Portland missed a 1996 deadline for meeting the ozone health standard, triggering an EPA duty to reclassify the area to a more severely polluted category. When EPA failed to take any action for years, Sierra Club filed suit in federal district court in Washington. Today's settlement resolves the suit by requiring stronger pollution controls, but without requiring EPA to reclassify Portland to the more severely polluted category.
"This settlement shows that health advocates can and do work together with the states and EPA to clean up the air," said A. Blakeman Early, chair of Sierra Club's air quality committee, "and it shows that the Clean Air Act works."
Although not a party to the suit, the Natural Resources Council of Maine played a major role in brokering the agreement. "This settlement represents a good step forward to reduce air and global warming pollution," said Sue Jones, Energy Project Director for the Council. "However, living downwind of major polluters, Mainers breathe the exhaust of industrial smokestacks and car and truck tailpipes. Even with this settlement, the State and EPA need to do more to reduce air pollution flowing into Maine."
Under the 1990 Clean Air Act, Portland was classified as a "moderate" ozone area. The law required that the area be reclassified to "serious" when it failed to attain the standard by 1996, and to "severe" when it failed to attain the standard by 1999. These reclassifications would have triggered requirements for additional ozone control rules, including expanded auto emission testing. Today's settlement avoids that result, while still requiring stronger anti-pollution measures in the Portland area.
Earlier this month, EPA identified the Portland area as violating a new, more protective smog standard that limits ozone over an eight-hour period. Today's settlement addresses compliance with EPA's pre-existing one-hour ozone standard.
"This settlement will increase our chances of meeting the new eight-hour standard," stated Jones. "But unless the administration gets sincere about cleaning up upwind power plants and vehicles, Maine will likely again find itself in violation of the Clean Air Act."
Earthjustice press office contact:
Cory Magnus, 202-667-4500