- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Tuesday unanimously asked the federal government to increase its proposed financial settlement with Global Partners LLC.
Councilors also want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to give the money to the city, rather than keeping it in federal coffers.
The action came in response to a consent decree between the EPA and Global Partners that would resolve claims the oil and fuel storage company exceeded the allowable limits of emissions at its 1 Clark Road tank farm, along the Fore River.
According to the EPA, the storage facility violated the Clean Air Act for more than a decade. So far, the EPA hasn’t shared information with the city about how extensive Global’s release of Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, may have been.
City Manager Scott Morelli said the city should benefit from the penalty, since residents are the ones directly affected by the alleged violations.
“The penalty represents a mere 30.8% of the lowest fine level for one day of alleged violations, and this document outlines that the city believes that fine to be too low,” Morelli said.
South Portland hired lawyers Paul Driscoll and Adrian Kendall, of Norman Hanson DeTroy in Portland, who analyzed the federal lawsuit and presented the city response to the consent decree to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The city’s response includes a request that a proposal to convert wood stoves in the city to cleaner burning models should be scrapped and replaced with initiatives funded by Global.
Those initiatives would include monitoring air quality; funding a public health survey and health officer position; and reducing reliance on fossil fuels by providing financial incentives to low-to-moderate income individuals for installation of greener heating and cooling equipment, such as heat pumps and solar panels.
The response also asks the EPA to provide the city with all documents that support claims there were violations of the city’s Clear Skies Ordinance. The city wants the consent decree amended so that the DOJ would retain jurisdiction, and asks that final court approval not be made until the city has had time to evaluate the documents requested.
The city will also require installation of the best commercially available equipment to eliminate the emission of VOCs and noxious odors.
Roberta Zuckerman, who lives on Preble Street, told councilors she worries that the other 90 tanks in the city being monitored by the DEP may be emitting more VOCs than the public was led to believe, saying that all VOC emitters need to be monitored using cutting-edge equipment.
“Our community is at stake,” Zuckerman said. “We’ve been living with these health hazards for too long and cumulative effects from long-term exposure are of great concern.”
Mayor Claude Morgan said the administration under former Gov. Paul LePage put the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in a difficult situation in regards to funding. Morgan said officials are attempting to build the agency up to provide better resources. He said they have shown a strong willingness to work with the city as the issue moves forward.
According to the EPA’s website, VOCs can have short and long-term negative health effects, with concentrations up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors. Adverse health effects may include headaches, nausea, eye irritation, dizziness, kidney damage, and, in some cases, various types of cancer.
Global has denied the violations have occurred, so the factual basis for whether the level of VOCs has exceeded the threshold of public tolerance is still up in the air. The Massachusetts-based petroleum storage company has promised to work with the community as the process moves forward.
According to Councilor Katherine Lewis, the city plans to submit all comments from councilors and residents to the EPA and DOJ before the case proceeds and the consent decree is finalized in federal court.
In the meantime, she said, councilors plan to continue looking at ways to improve air quality in the city.