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MPBN
By
Tom Porter

Mark Green is an oceanographer at St. Joseph's college in Standish. "These standards today are a huge step forward in finally addressing a problem that's only been on people's radar for about 10 years," Green says, "but which I think is, by far, the largest environmental issue that we face in our generation." 

Green is talking about ocean acidification, the term used to describe the rapidly changing chemistry of the ocean due to increasing carbon emissions. Particularly at risk, says Green, are shell-forming species such as clams, oysters and scallops.

"I've been working on mitigation strategies and things like this for quite some time now," Green says, "and the only mitigation strategy there is known to exist on the planet is lowering our carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere."

Green was speaking in a telephone news conference organized in response to the EPA announcement. Lisa Pohlman is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. She describes the news as a win for the state's economy and the environment.

"Maine has been a leader in clean energy and energy efficiency for long time, so today's proposal by the EPA will reward our leadership and provide additional benefits to our state," she says.

The EPA plan has different targets for different states, and Pohlman says Maine's commitment to clean energy means it has a head start on most of the country.

"We're not expecting a really big change because of the EPA's new standards," Pohlman says, "we're really expecting the rest of the country to catch up with us."

Maine's proposed emission rate goal is significantly less than the 30 percent average. The rules call for power plants in the Pine Tree State to cut emissions by 14 percent by 2030. 

Emily Figdor, of Environment Maine, says this will likely be achieved within the existing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - or "Reggie," a regional cap-and-trade program operated by nine states, which she says has already lowered emissions by more than 40 percent since 2008.

"It's likely that we'll have to make some tweaks to the program, but overall we do anticipate that we'll use the program to comply," Figdor says, "and essentially the federal rule is really building on the work that Maine has done through the 'Reggie' program."

The EPA rules are expected to be finalized next year, and individual states then have until June 2016 to propose their plans to the agency. Although President Obama does not need congressional approval, some lawmakers in the House and Senate - particularly those from coal-mining states like West Virginia - have vowed to try and block the rules.

Both of Maine's Democratic House representatives welcomed the new rules, as did independent Sen. Angus King. Maine's other senator - Republican Susan Collins - issued a statement saying she was still carefully evaluating them.

Another potential stumbling block is the attitude of state governors. The plan relies heavily on them agreeing to develop plans to meet the federal standard. Jessamine Logan is with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. 

"The department strongly believes that the rules should preserve states' rights and provide flexibility, and that it should not disadvantage the states that took early action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions," Logan says, "including states like Maine that belong to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and has its own rules."

Logan says state officials are still pouring through the 645 pages of rules, and it will probably be the end of the week before the LePage administration provides any detailed comment.