AUGUSTA – The Attorney General’s Office has warned the Natural Resources Committee that an amendment it passed that came from International Paper of Jay would not be legal under the federal Clean Water Act.

If left unchanged, the amendment would tie the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection to enforce pollution standards on the Androscoggin River, said Assistant Attorney General Jerry Reid.

The Attorney General’s Office had concerns that the last part of the amendment, which states: “No 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 violation by the department shall be null and void on the effective date of this chapter.”

That language “would restrict the state’s enforcement authority in a way that’s inconsistent with the Clean Water Act,” Reid said. “That may not have been the intention, but that’s the language that would be unlawful.”

Because of that, the committee will consider a changed amendment, but no amendment was ready Tuesday, said committee Chairmen Sen. Scott Cowger and Rep. Theodore Koffman.

The amendment is to a bill dealing with new environmental standards for the Androscoggin – the dirtiest river in Maine and one that is not meeting its Class C environmental standards. The amendment “is a means and ends issue. There’s no real debate about the end point we want to get to,” which is improved water quality so that all of the Androscoggin meets Class C standards, Koffman said.

Passing language that would violate the Clean Water Act was never the intention of his committee, Koffman said. The amendment was passed unanimously May 18 after it was handed by IP lobbyist Stephen Clarkin to a committee member, then voted on. The next day, DEP said it was opposed to the amendment.

The committee is now considering several options to ensure whatever it passes “is airtight” with the Clean Water Act, Koffman said. “We’re negotiating with the industry on which option is the least painful for them, but would work.” The committee has to figure out how “to get on with the cleanup of the river in a way that stands up to court challenges. The committee wants to find a process that gets us with certainty to cleaning up the river and getting that job done over a 10-year period,” Koffman said.

Steve Hinchman, attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Brunswick, said what the committee passed last week has moved “from borderline violations to wholesale violations of the Clean Water Act. This is a bad deal getting worse. Even the AG is now balking” at proposals that would diminish the state’s authority in enforcing standards “that every other industry in Maine has to meet. This is special-interest favoritism at its worse.”

IP said Tuesday the company’s intent with the amendment it offered was never to violate any environmental law. “All we’re trying to do is not be in a position of being cited for a violation which isn’t the standard in effect yet,” Clarkin said.

The amendment is seen by IP as a technical change to a bill to avoid the mill’s getting violation notices for future pollution limits.

The committee plans to consider a new amendment Thursday.

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