"Massive emissions of greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide make biomass and coal burning facilities major contributors to climate change. Yet one large source of climate pollution that’s been flying under the radar has been pulp and paper mills—until now.
A lawsuit against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched by the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and Port Townsend AirWatchers could force new pulp and paper mills—and possibly even existing facilities—to cut back on their carbon dioxide emissions or shut down. The US is the world’s largest consumer of paper products, according to a Center for Biological Diversity fact sheet. The pulp and paper industry is the nation’s 3rd largest consumer of energy, after the petroleum and chemical industries, emitting 57.7 MMT CO2 eq (million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2004.\
The first-of-its-kind lawsuit demands that the EPA abide by Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to review air pollution standards for paper mills every eight years, according to Vera Pardee, Senior Attorney with the Climate Law Institute. The last time the EPA reviewed paper mill standards was in 1986—twenty six years ago. “Since then the EPA hasn’t done anything,” said Pardee on an October 31, 2012 legal briefing via phone organized by Environmental Paper Network. “This is an unreasonable delay.”
The paper mills in question are called “kraft” mills, referring to a chemical process employed to convert wood into wood pulp to make paper. The kraft pulping process is “very energy intensive, digesting wood chips in solutions in high temperatures, recovering chemicals with a heating process,” said Pardee. Every time heat is used, greenhouse gases are emitted.
Aside from greenhouse gases, paper mills are a major source of toxic air pollution, including but not limited to particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. While referring to the toxic air pollutants emitted from paper mills as “horrific,” Pardee explained the “prime motivation” for the lawsuit to be carbon dioxide emissions due to their effect on the climate. “We’ve just seen Sandy’s impact,” said Pardee, “a hurricane that was amplified to a significant extent by climate change.”
Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and PT AirWatchers intend that their lawsuit will force the EPA to review the air pollution standards for paper mills. If the EPA determines that the “standards do not meet available technology,” the agency would review the standards and ultimately issue a proposed new rule. If all goes according to plan, the lawsuit would then be at an end. If the EPA continues to shirk its responsibility, then “other legal avenues are available,” warned Pardee.
Any proposed rule revising kraft mill standards would be released by the EPA by May of 2013, opened to public comment, and then finalized by March 2014. However, Pardee doesn’t think climate and forest advocates need to wait until next year to make their voices heard. “Industry is certainly talking to EPA at all times, making submissions—no reason we shouldn’t do same thing,” advised Pardee. The proposed rule would mandate that EPA take a long hard look at various other air pollutants emitted by pulp and paper mills, besides carbon dioxide.
The plaintiffs “truly do expect that the proposed rule will tighten standards and tackle pollutants,” said Pardee. While the rules would at first apply only to new paper mills, the EPA would also be required to issue “guidance” for emissions from existing mills. While guidance leaves industry more wiggle room than standards, paper mills operating across the country could be subject to new restrictions.
Port Townsend AirWatchers, a grassroots community group based in Port Townsend, Washington, became a plaintiff in the EPA lawsuit due to concerns about carbon dioxide and other air pollution from the Port Townsend Paper Company, which is also proposing to build a brand new biomass power incinerator.
“The hope is that our countries industrial regulations will continue to move towards clean air, water, and soil that reflects current science and technology focused on protecting our earth and environment, now and in the future,” said Elaine Bailey, of Port Townsend AirWatchers.
The new air quality standards for pulp mills will only apply to biomass incinerators if the incinerator is a part of the pulp mill and legally considered a “modification” of the facility, according to Pardee. “There’s an enormous amount of case law and regulatory material that helps define that.” If the EPA sets the new standards, the law would require a concurrent update in guidance for existing facilities such as the Port Townsend Paper Mill. “If the EPA doesn’t do it,” said Pardee, “there’s the next lawsuit.”
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, some Vermont and New York State residents hope that the lawsuit will eventually apply to one of the largest, local air and water polluters, International Paper’s Ticonderoga Paper Mill. Looming on the banks of Lake Champlain—one of the largest freshwater bodies in the US, a recreational paradise, and the drinking water supply for Burlington, Vermont, population 42,000—the Ticonderoga Mill has racked up an astounding number of air and water quality violations over its four decades of operation. [see chart below]."
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Time to SHUT DOWN THE PORT TOWNSEND PAPER TOXIN FACTORY