AUGUSTA – An amendment to a clean-water bill from an International Paper lobbyist is stirring controversy at the State House and has prompted a Lewiston legislator to seek advice from the Attorney General’s Office.

After learning that the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee passed an amendment that was drafted and personally handed over by an IP lobbyist, Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said Friday she’ll ask the Attorney General’s Office for help in understanding the amendment.

Environmentalists are questioning whether the amendment would tie the state’s hands in enforcing pollution limits. IP’s Stephen Clarkin said that all the amendment tries to do is make a technical change to avoid the mill’s getting violation notices for future pollution limits.

Rotundo said she doesn’t know what the amendment means, and that it is vague and confusing. She wants to be sure that any laws the House and Senate will vote on regarding the Androscoggin River will improve water quality and meet the federal Clean Water Act.

Meanwhile the committee’s co-chairman, Sen. Scott Cowger, said Friday that the IP amendment will not stand, despite being approved by the committee. A new amendment, this time written by the DEP, will be taken up next week.

The controversy began Wednesday when Clarkin handed his amendment to Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, during a work session, Cowger said.

The committee unanimously passed that amendment, which says, in part, that no pollution licenses “or license limits subject to such an agreement shall in any way be construed as giving rise to a violation or result in a notice of violation. Any finding or notice of such a violation by the Department (of Environmental Protection) shall be null and void on the effective date of this chapter.”

“Certainly there’s enough lack of clarity that I feel we do need to make a request of the attorney general to clarify what we’re dealing with, to make sure that this is doing what people think it’s doing,” Rotundo said. Rep. Elaine Makas, D-Lewiston, said she does not understand the amendment and is concerned about it.

Environmentalists worry that the amendment could harm the Androscoggin. “If you can’t enforce the permit, how do you stop people from polluting?” Natural Resources Council of Maine scientist Nick Bennett asked Friday, adding that he doesn’t understand the amendment. “This situation is complicated, and a vaguely written statute is not going to help resolve the issues on the Androscoggin River.”

Clarkin and Cowger said that the new DEP amendment will be clearer and achieve what the committee is trying to do: find a way to reduce pollution while ensuring the state does not enforce new discharge standards until they take effect in five years or so.

IP said its customers would not be pleased to hear of environmental violations, and receiving those notices would be unfair when it has agreed to pollute less than what the law mandates, Clarkin said.

Andy Fisk, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Land and Water Quality, declined to comment on what the controversial amendment would do, except to say, “We don’t support the wording in the IP amendment presented to the committee.”

The new amendment will represent the committee’s intention, Fisk said, which is not to excuse any violations that arise, “or violate the Clean Water Act, or create any enforcement loophole.”

The Natural Resources Committee will meet on Tuesday, Cowger said.

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