Mayor Brennan speaks out about turnpike toll increases and mercury emissions

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan has been outspoken this week on a number of issues, starting with his forceful testimony before the Maine Charter School Commission on Monday.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan (BDN file photo by Robert Bukaty)

As the week went on, he came out strongly against proposals to raise the tolls on the Maine turnpike and, at the federal level, to block new Environmental Protection Agency rules limiting mercury emissions by power plants.

Here’s what Mayor Brennan said about the toll hikes in a thorough statement issued on Wednesday:

Before rushing to a conclusion, a careful economic and traffic analysis is warranted. Portland commuters and businesses should not be asked to carry more of the burden than towns and cities either north or south of us. These rate increases should be fair and equitable. As the economic and population center of the state, Portland is all too often asked to bear more of the expense or burden for costly state investments in infrastructure. In this case, with rate increases impacting the daily lives of hard working Mainers, we need to make sure that the cost is fairly distributed throughout the state and is not punitive to population and economic hubs.

With approximately 250,000 people traveling into the area every day to work, it is absolutely paramount that the Turnpike Authority thoroughly analyze and seek input from the public on any potential traffic impacts. As we have seen in the past, there can be unintended consequences, one being an influx of traffic on local residential roads that are neither equipped nor designed for busy traffic.

I appreciate the effort the Maine Turnpike Authority has made to engage the public, regardless of the reasons why, rate increases are never popular or easy. As we move through this process, I urge the Turnpike Authority to take the time necessary to ensure that any rate changes are appropriate and minimize any negative economic impact on local businesses and workers.

And here’s Brennan Friday on the mercury emissions limits, which were protected in the Senate Thursday with a vote to reject a resolution which would have overturned them:

These rules were first called for by Congress in 1990. Twenty-two years of stalling and delay is too long for our communities to wait for such fundamental rights as healthy air and water, and I applaud Maine’s Senators Snowe and Collins for thwarting efforts to scrap the new emission standards.

Because of geography, Maine receives a disproportionate amount of mercury from coal and oil power plants located in the Midwest. Mercury levels in Maine fish, loons, and eagles are among the highest in North America leading the Maine Bureau of Health to issue a statewide advisory recommending that pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and young children limit their consumption of certain types of local fish. This toxic pollution not only poses real health risk but harms our environment and limits economic opportunity in our state. The real tragedy is that it’s avoidable. The new EPA limits are entirely reasonable and long overdue.

Mayors understand the real day-to-day needs of protecting the health of our citizens, and we all agree that these rules are critical for our communities and strongly support the work of Administrator Jackson and the EPA in this regard. I thank our Congressional delegation for their support and urge them to remain vigilant in their support of these new rules and efforts to limit toxic pollution and improve the quality of our air and water.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.