Dragon Products received approval July 17 from the Board of Environmental Protection to increase its mercury emissions limit.

Dragon, which operates the cement plant in Thomaston, applied to use the federal limit of 42 pounds per year rather than the state limit of 25 pounds per year.

"We are pleased with the board's decision that alignment of Dragon's mercury emission limit with the EPA's production-based limit meets the standard established by the Maine Legislature for alternative mercury emissions limits," stated Plant Manager Ray DeGrass in a press release July 18.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine is disappointed in the board's vote, which they expressed in a statement from its Clean Energy Project Director, Dylan Voorhees.

In February, Degrass and Environmental Manager Michael Martunas said that if the plant had to go by the state standard, it would "curtail production dramatically." Degrass said that would keep the plant operating at recession levels.

He argued the state's limit on emissions would not prevent a cement company from out of state selling to customers in Maine, filling a demand Dragon would not be able to due to the limits.

In 2008, the Maine Legislature reduced the mercury emission limit from 35 pounds per year to 25 pounds per year, but allowed plants to apply for an alternative limit. Companies had to submit a mercury reduction plan to the Department of Environmental Protection and perform emissions testing.

By 2013, companies were required to develop a second mercury reduction plan, incorporating the results of the four mercury emission tests, and submit the updated plan to DEP.

"In recommending support for this request from the Spanish-owned Dragon Cement Company, DEP is effectively surrendering the state’s ability to limit mercury emissions at Dragon, allowing the plant to pollute at the highest level permitted nationwide," Voorhees said in a statement.

Dragon Cement Company’s request flies in the face of Maine’s law to limit mercury, and the state’s Mercury Action Plan too. Maine joined with the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in adopting the action plan, the goal of which is the virtual elimination of anthropogenic mercury emissions, according to a news release from NRCM.

"Dragon met all of the testing and reporting requirements. On March 3, 2013, DEP submitted a Mercury Reduction Report to the ENR Committee. The Department's Report discussed Dragon's research and mercury emissions studies in detail, and ultimately recommended Dragon's limit align with the newly promulgated federal emission limit for mercury," according to information in a memo sent earlier this year to Rockland City Council.

"It [Dragon] put at least 13 pounds of toxic mercury per year into Maine’s environment in 2011-2012. That may not sound like much, but, over time, just one gram of mercury in the air deposited in a 20-acre lake each year, can contaminate the fish in that lake and 13 pounds is almost 6,000 grams," Voorhees said in the news release.

Voorhees said there is no reason that Maine should not require Dragon to install widely available control technologies such as activated carbon injection or wet scrubbers. To do so would be the equivalent of eliminating Maine’s third largest single source of mercury pollution.

"…EPA's new rule also requires the installation of a Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (CEMS) for mercury emissions. Under the new federal emission standards, Dragon's mercury emission limit, at maximum theoretical production, is 42 pounds per year," information from Dragon stated.

Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.