AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection could soon begin investigating the best ways to monitor and control emissions and odors from heated above-ground petroleum storage tanks like those at the center of a long-running air quality controversy in South Portland.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, would direct state officials to study methods to measure, estimate and control odors and other air emissions from heated storage tanks, loading racks and vessel off-loading facilities.

The department would be expected to review best available control technologies being used in other states and jurisdictions, and submit a report with findings and recommendations to the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee by January 1, 2021.

“We have to get a handle on what the tanks’ actual emissions are and what their levels are and then utilize and require best practices in dealing with them,” Millett said.

The bill, currently in title form only, was approved for debate by State House leaders last week. Hearings on the bill would be held after the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Millet said the Maine DEP helped her with the bill language and that the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is working collaboratively with the DEP to assess levels for emissions of volatile organic compounds and other pollutants regulated under the federal Clean Air Act.

The legislation is necessary, Millett said, to provide peace of mind to residents in the city and surrounding communities following a decision by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to stick to the terms of a consent decree with Global LP, one of several storage tank operators in South Portland.

In March, city officials and residents in South Portland learned that Global, a Massachusetts-based company, had for several years emitted higher levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, than allowed under its emissions license from the Maine DEP.

The 12-tank facility is licensed to emit 21.9 tons of VOCs into the air each year. However, testing showed that more than 40 tons per year were being emitted from the tanks, and the entire facility had the potential to emit more than 50 tons per year. The tanks are used to store asphalt and heavy oil that comes in by barge or truck until the materials are loaded into tank trucks or marine vessels for distribution.

While Global disputes the findings, and Maine DEP officials initially backed the company, the state agency has since expressed regret that it didn’t make a greater effort to collaborate with the EPA and is now administering a community-wide air quality monitoring program at no cost to the city.

The bill is the second by Millett aimed at ensuring pollution control and air quality in southern Maine. In 2019, Millett successfully sponsored a bill that requires the DEP to notify municipalities when it issues a notice of an air-quality violation or if an air quality violation is reported to the state by the EPA.

South Portland officials and residents said they were left in the dark over Global’s emission violations. The city has also contested a consent decree the EPA has entered into with Global that among other things requires the company to spend at least $150,000 on a program to upgrade or replace wood stoves in Cumberland County with cleaner-burning, more efficient heating equipment. Many said the fine was too low and the wood stove program isn’t especially relevant to South Portland residents.

The agreement also requires Global to seek a new emissions permit from the DEP and pay a $40,000 fine.

The agreement also calls for Global to spend at least $250,000 to install petroleum mist eliminators intended to reduce both VOCs and foul odors that have plagued the Pleasantdale neighborhood for years.

In September, Global announced it would install a total of $400,000 in odor-control equipment on its petroleum storage tanks, contribute $15,000 toward an air quality monitoring program and provide a website, globalsouthportland.com, where residents can report odor complaints directly to Global and read annual emissions data filed with the Maine DEP.

In October the EPA announced it was sticking by the original terms of the consent decree despite objections from city officials. The federal agency also disputes the claim that city officials were never notified of Global’s emissions violations.

David Madore, a spokesman for the Maine DEP, said the department was providing Millett with technical assistance in drafting the legislation “and we look forward to working with her and the committee to address this issue during the next session.”

South Portland City Manager Scott Morelli said the city welcomes the additional oversight and the city’s recently formed Clean Air Advisory Committee is also working on the issue.

“We need to get a better understanding of what is being emitted into our air and how we can mitigate or eliminate anything harmful,” Morelli wrote to the Press Herald in an email. “If the state is also pushing toward this goal, then we will have really strong momentum to help address a concern that has lingered in this community for many years.”

 

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