LEWISTON – While Gov. John Baldacci was patting the paper companies on the back Tuesday for providing thousands of good-paying jobs and for being proactive in cleaning the Androscoggin River, two Lewiston legislators balked at environmental praise for the mills.

Rep. Elaine Makas, D-Lewiston, said the state isn’t working hard enough to protect the river, and Baldacci has been easy on the paper mills, which statistics show produce most of the pollution in the Androscoggin.

“I think the governor is naive,” Makas said. “He’s believing what they’re saying.” Makas said she’s “tired of paper companies looking at the river as their personal property. The river is shared ownership. … It can’t be single-use dumping ground.”

At the State House earlier this year, Makas and others in the Lewiston legislative delegation pushed for a new law to reduce pollution and bring the river into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act within five years. Makas and the delegation lost.

Instead, Baldacci signed into law a measure that will bring the river into compliance in 10 years. Baldacci’s administration said that new law will significantly improve water quality.

Makas disagrees, and said she is concerned that water quality will “go backwards. I’m unhappy. And I have not given up.” She added that she is dissatisfied with anything that has been done by the paper companies – especially International Paper, which is being sued by the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The new law “is just continuing the paper companies’ disrespect of the Androscoggin and the people of Lewiston-Auburn,” Makas said.

Rep. William Walcott, D-Lewiston, said Tuesday the mills have done “good work” to improve the river’s water quality, but the mills have not been proactive.

What’s pushed the mills to reduce pollution, Walcott said, has been citizen involvement; laws passed by state legislators, including laws to reduce color, foam and odor; and the federal Clean Water Act. Without all of that, the river probably would be cleaner than it was 30 years ago, but not as clean as it is today, he said.

“And the Androscoggin has a long way to go,” Walcott said, adding that he’s not satisfied with the status quo. Thirty years after the Clean Water Act was passed, “the river still doesn’t meet the standards.”

Unlike Makas, however, Walcott said he is willing to see if the river-quality law Baldacci signed this year will improve the Androscoggin.

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