PORTLAND (AP) – The Maine Department of Environmental Protection faces significant funding shortfalls in its air emissions and wastewater discharge programs by next year, said the department’s director of policy.

The shortfalls are still being calculated, but as of three weeks ago the deficit in the air program was projected to be $640,000 while shortages in the water program could range from $250,000 to $300,000, Jim Dusch said.

The funding shortfalls are a chronic problem because contributions from the state’s general fund and federal grants have remained flat, Dusch said. Licensing fees in the air bureau have not changed since 1994, and wastewater discharge fees haven’t changed since the state was delegated the federal licensing program.

“It’s costing more and more just to support programs in the condition they’re in now,” Dusch said. “It’s the same number of people or less trying to do increasing amounts of work, but there’s no more money coming in.”

In the past the agency has cobbled together money by getting one-time allocations from the general fund or grants from the Maine Department of Transportation. Now the environmental department’s Commissioner Dawn Gallagher wants the agency to look for a more long-term solution, Dusch says.

Norman Anderson, research coordinator at the American Lung Association of Maine, says he supports the concept of looking at both programs together and considering alternative ways to pay for them.

Anderson said he does not want to see any cutbacks in licensing and enforcement, but acknowledges the difficulties ahead.

“It doesn’t seem like there are easy solutions to this problem,” he said. “There needs to be a way to at least maintain, if not enhance, the department’s ability to regulate these sources.”

Michael Barden, director of environmental affairs at the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, says his industry already funds about 50 percent of the staff positions in the air program.

A large pulp and paper mill typically pays about $300,000 in licensing fees for air, water and hazardous waste, Barden said. But his concerns over funding such programs would be program efficiencies.

“Have they looked at reducing staff, for example? Do they need this many staff people anymore?” he said. “Or, if they do need the staff, have they looked at other options for funding some of these people?”



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