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Weyerhaeuser Company

Radio Show Transcript

PBS, Peter Berle, Host

Peter Berle: Coming up on this week's Environment Show, the Clinton Administration is trying to trade bureaucratic hassle for environmental protection. Can it work? Or are they giving the store away?

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement with the Weyerhaeuser Forest Products Company covering their Flint River pulp mill in Oglethorpe, Georgia. Water use will be reduced to less than half the industry average. Waste water and chlorine discharges will be limited and Weyerhaeuser agreed to management practices in its upstream forest that will enhance wildlife. In exchange, some regulations affecting Weyerhaeuser were relaxed. The agreement was a result of Project XL, which the EPA launched in 1995. John Kessler, director of the emerging strategies division of EPA, describes how under Project XL EPA has negotiated comprehensive pollution control agreements with particular industries.

John Kessler:
Each XL project is an agreement with an individual facility, with local citizens, with the state or local agencies, and with EPA. Each agreement has really three key features. First of all, it provides a greater level of environmental protection (what we call superior environmental performance) relative to what would happen without Project XL. Secondly, it provides a greater level of acountability to local citizens and to government agencies so we all have a greater ability to see what is going on. Third, it provides greater flexibility to the facility itself, or group of facilities, in terms of how it achieves those environmental goals. So, its basically superior environmental performance, greater accountability to citizens for that performance, and greater flexibility in how that performance is achieved.

A fundamental aspect of XL agreements is that citizen groups participate in the negotiations and more data about the performance of the industry is released to the public while the agreement is in force. Also, the agreements cover things that are not part of air and water permitting processing.

And this is a feature of many of these XL projects. We are not only getting reduced loadings of the things we do regulate, very often these agreements incorporate things that we don't. In the case of Intel, one of the things that the local community was concerned about, in addition to the things that we do regulate, they were concerned about two other things. One, water use and the other, set backs of the plant and basically, the centerpiece of our agreement was an air permit and so we said, how do you put those kinds of things in an air permit? And we negotiated an agreement that includes quarter mile set backs for the plant, which is what the local community wanted and that basically ensures that not only is the facility not a net user of local water, it actually takes the discharge from the local, publicly owned treatment works and uses that water as its base product and then returns that water to the community in a form that is purer than when it received it.

Peter Berle:
Kate Tate, who is the environmental communications manager for the Weyerhaeuser Company, says the incentive for the company to enter into the agreement was to get more leeway from EPA.

Kate Tate:
We were seeking flexibility in the area of environmental rules in several areas. First of all, in how we achieve pollution prevention in our various permitting -- for things such as developing new products, and performing trials on those new products. We were seeking flexibility in reduced reporting and record keeping and I think one other major thing is we were seeking predictability in terms of permit requirements over the life of the permit.

Peter Berle:
Not all of the XL initiatives have resulted in agreements. In Minnesota, the 3M Company negotiated an XL agreement through its state of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The deal fell through though when EPA wanted greater guarantees of continued improvement. 3M refused to be interviewed by the Environment Show but Peter Larson, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said that when the XL agreement collapsed, 3M went back to the traditional permitting processes.

Peter Larson:
Most importantly for us was our goal of really trying to experiment, really trust a company that at this site had provided incredible environmental performance and used that as an opportunity to try to figure out a new way of doing business. EPA didn't have quite the willingness to experiment that we thought was appropriate, the project got tied up into some knots that just couldn't be untied.

Peter Berle:
Environmentalist, David Hawkins, senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council sees Project XL as an attractive idea but says it needs clearer definition.

David Hawkins:
The way EPA should proceed is to identify some key environmental needs in the general area of improving innovation, maybe pollution prevention, other objectives. What would the EPA like to see developed out there in the private sector in order to make progress on the environment. And then solicit a competition for proposals to address those needs and then select the ones that are proposing to do the best job and if those peroposals identify some changes in existing rules and regulations that are needed in order to make the proposals a reality, then sit down and work out the differences and try to make it happen. But I think what we have currently, in the current crop, is the flip side. We have companies which have identified existing rules and regulations that they don't like for one reason or another. Some of the objections may be legitimate but basically, the process has been the company identifies an existing set of rules and regulations that it doesn't like and it says, well, we would really like to get out from under these things. Lets see if we can come up with a package that we can wrap around our basic objective of getting out from under the rules and regulations that will be attractive enough to pass muster with EPA. And because EPA hasn't set up any real criteria, the companies are tempted to come in with as minimal a package as possible.

Regulatory reform is on everybody's agenda. Through Project XL, EPA is trying to find better ways to manage all of the environmental impacts of a facility using the promise of release from its own bureaucratic procedures as a bargaining chip.

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