By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — Opponents of International Paper Co.’s (IPC) proposal to conduct a two-week trial burn of tire chips at its Ticonderoga, N.Y., mill are busy planning the next steps in their fight should the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) give its green light to the IPC plan. A decision that could be released as early as next week.
The EPA is in the midst of a 45-day review of the IPC proposal to burn up to 72 tons of tire-derived fuel per day in one of its boilers during the two-week test period. Company officials hope the trial burn will pave the way for IPC to eventually replace 5 to 10 percent of its traditional fuel source annually with the tire material, a cheaper alternative to oil.
Vermont officials and environmental groups have argued that IPC should not be allowed to conduct its test burn until it installs an electrostatic precipitator on its smokestack to capture the smallest, toxic particles they believe will otherwise waft over Lake Champlain and into the lungs of Addison County residents.
Vermont Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, has offered the Green Mountain State’s assistance in helping IPC acquire an electrostatic precipitator — a device that opponents of the trial burn contend is standard pollution control equipment in the paper making industry.
International Paper officials have argued that IPC meets emissions standards with its current equipment, and that the trial burn data should help determine whether the company really needs an electrostatic precipitator.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) forwarded the paper mill’s tire burn application to the EPA on July 27. If the EPA does not object to IPC’s proposal, it will bounce back to the NYDEC, which could then issue a permit for the two-week trial burn to proceed.
International Paper spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth said a smooth permitting process could allow IPC to conduct the trial burn by late this fall.
“If we do get the go-ahead, we anticipate a safe and strictly monitored trial,” Wadsworth said.
Opponents, meanwhile, are looking at all of their legal options in anticipation of an EPA decision they say is ironically due on a somber national anniversary — Sept. 11.
Erick Titrud, Vermont’s assistant attorney general in charge of the environmental protection unit in the AG’s office, said Vermont’s legal options include:
• Petitioning for the EPA to object to IPC’s tire burn application. The state has 60 days in which to take that action, according to Titrud.
“An objection to the EPA would postpone the effectiveness of any permit issued,” Titrud said.
• Challenging any trial burn permit issued to IPC through a petition to the New York Supreme Court (Albany division).
• Initiating a lawsuit in federal court under the “citizens’ lawsuits division” of the Clean Air Act.
“We have options available to us,” Titrud said. “At this point, we are conducting a lot of review and research. We have not resolved what steps we’re going to take.”
Members of the Middlebury-based group People for Less Pollution (PLP) will be closely monitoring Vermont’s next move, provided the EPA doesn’t object to IPC’s application.
Dr. Jack Mayer — a Middlebury pediatrician and member of PLP — conceded he is not optimistic about how the EPA will rule on the IPC application.
“Our anticipation is that this may come out badly for Vermont,” Mayer said, noting that the EPA will base its decision on environmental regulations “that are probably 10 years old.”
Mayer said that if IPC’s Ticonderoga mill were being built today, it would be required to have an electrostatic precipitator. And he added the company could pay for such a device in short order through the estimated $4 million annually it could save by burning tire chips.
“Everyone knows this is the appropriate technology, and that (IPC) is just trying to do this on the cheap,” Mayer said. “If IPC had put in an electrostatic precipitator four years ago, it would have been paid for by now.”
Some Addison County residents are already expressing concerns about what they should do if the test burn moves forward. Some are asking if they should close their windows, though Mayer noted the smallest particles can still find their way into a closed home.
“Parents are scared, and they should be concerned about this,” Mayer said. “If ever we had… an environmental emergency, this is it.”
Douglas, in a statement issued last month, pledged that his office will do all it can to oppose the tire burn unless IPC acquires an electrostatic precipitator.
“I am urging the attorney general to pursue the available appeal routes,” Douglas said. “In addition, we are prepared to take legal action at the federal level if it becomes necessary.
“I remain prepared to exhaust all available legal avenues to prevent this potentially toxic tire burn,” he added.
Rich Carpenter, the leader of PLP, said his group will not give up the fight.
“We never thought it was going to be easy,” Carpenter said. “We’ll keep plugging away.”