A proposal by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to scale back the state’s participation in federal pollution control efforts are the subject of much criticism lately.

Before you make your own conclusion, however, we thought it might be helpful to explain how Gov. Paul LePage’s administration arrived at its conclusion that making this change is in the state’s best interest from an environmental and economic standpoint and how it is in good company with its proposal.

First, a little background.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, created the Ozone Transport Region, which extends from Northern Virginia through the entire state of Maine. At the time of its creation, Maine’s southern coastal counties were not meeting federal ozone protection standards, but the entire state is considered to have moderate pollution levels, even though the levels in counties to the north were significantly lower than those in the south.

As a result, the regulatory requirements for building a major new factory or making major modifications to existing ones anywhere in the state are the same.

Offsets are the federal government’s way of reducing pollutants by requiring reduced emissions from one source before you can increase emissions anywhere else in the state. These emission “credits” are created when sources are shut down and the emissions are certified through a state process and then may be sold to others to be used by other sources that plan to expand.

Before venturing any further, we need to understand that almost all of Maine’s ozone problems were caused by out-of-state sources. In fact, one could predict when the Portland area was going to have air quality issues by looking at the weather conditions and ozone levels in Boston.

It is important to note that both the Clean Air Act and the regulatory requirements for the Ozone Transport Region can be amended when there are measurable air quality improvements.

In 1995, under Gov. Angus King and in 2006, under Gov. John Baldacci, the state applied for a waiver allowed under the Clean Air Act. Their justification showed that nitrogen oxide reductions in Maine do not have an adverse impact on the ozone levels in this state. In fact, the entire state of Maine has met the 1997 ozone standard and continues to meet the more stringent 2008 standard and has been in compliance since 2004.

Both waivers were granted, and there was no public outcry about these requests.

Before a waiver is allowed, the state must show that further reductions in nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds would not have an adverse impact on ozone levels in Maine. Secondly, the state needs to demonstrate that offset and lowest achievable emission rate requirements would not have a negative impact on other states in the Ozone Transport Region.

This document for the current waiver request was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for review and comment. The Department of Environmental Protection then revised the document per EPA’s guidance and put this it out for public review and a 30-day comment period.

This request is not any different from the others and is supported by the EPA as a way to provide for economic growth while maintaining healthy air quality.

Granting this request will not result in air quality degradation. New and expanding facilities must apply state-of-the-art controls and monitoring systems. These sources must demonstrate that their emissions, in conjunction with other sources around them, meet air quality standards.

The emissions of hazardous air pollutants must meet standards that the federal government has issued.

Emissions in this state are very well controlled. This is not a race to the bottom as some have claimed. What will not be required if the new waiver is granted is the purchasing of “credits” from shutdown facilities or the installation of costly, unnecessary control equipment.

Our facilities will now be on the same playing field as other states that are in compliance.

Strict emissions rules are a real concern for businesses. In fact, there are cases where businesses have moved to Canada to avoid regulatory burdens that provide no significant air quality benefit. That is the reason that the King and Baldacci administrations, and now the LePage administration, have requested sensible waivers to these offset requirements.

The ability to modify or change regulatory requirements when data show air quality will not be compromised as a result is an essential component of our belief that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand in hand. It is time to put to rest the old Maine adage “pickerel or payroll.” We have shown we can have both.

This a sound decision by the administration and the Department of Environmental Protection. Buying “air pollution credits” does not necessarily improve air quality; the best control technology does. King and Baldacci knew that, too.

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He is also a former environmental manager for a Maine paper company. Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, serves on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. He also served as director of the Bureau of Air Quality Control for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.