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Weyerhaeuser Company

BNA Article on Weyerhaeuser

Weyerhauser Project XL Proposal May Become Final Soon, EPA Official Says

A Weyerhauser facility in southern Georgia may be able to skirt strict air toxics controls in exchange for an alternative compliance plan that incorporates pollution prevention and seeks to significantly reduce emissions to air, water, and land.

An agreement on a Project XL proposal with Weyerhauser, a forest products company, may be signed by Dec. 27 pending finishing touches on the draft final and the response to comments, Environmental Protection Agency officials told BNA Dec. 18.

Weyerhauser seeks to expand its multi-phase "minimum impact manufacturing" model at its Flint River Operations facility in Oglethorpe, GA. The company defines MIM as "a holistic strategy for continuous environmental improvement."

The company said it would implement programs that improve water quality and cut the amount of solid waste it generates in return for flexibility in other regulatory areas, such as testing and reporting requirements, EPA said in an Oct. 10 letter to stakeholders.

Among the goals Weyerhauser seeks to achieve are reductions in bleach plant flows, enhanced timberlands management programs, use of ISO 14001 to upgrade its environmental management system, improved energy conservation, and decreased raw water demand, EPA said.

In return, one regulatory area from which the company seeks relief is the proposed pulp and paper cluster rule, which among other things, sets maximum achievable control technology standards under the Clean Air Act.

Once the pulp and paper rule is made final, the state would work with the company to quantify the emission reductions required of the plant under that rule. Georgia then would propose to waive the MACT requirements for Weyerhauser if the facility can show pollutant reductions "using innovative and pollution prevention approaches in lieu of, or in addition to, end-of-pipe controls," EPA said. The company would have to achieve its pollutant reductions through "any combination of" emissions control equipoment, pollution prevention or any innovative technology or techniques, and add-on controls.

"Since Weyerhauser would be able to use specified existing reductions for non-regulated sources for compliance purposes, there is a possibility that, in the short term, the environment will not see the same amount of air emission reduction which would be realized by strict adherence to the letter of the MACT rule," the EPA letter said.

Environmentalist Concerns

This outcome is one reason some environmentalists are concerned.

David Hawkins, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a Nov. 14 letter that the draft agreement seeks to give the facility credit for past voluntary reductions, but does not follow provisions for doing so outlined in the Clean Air Act. Moreover, he said, the alternative compliance plan should reap benefits beyond what the MACT rule would require rather than merely offering the equivalent.

To justify spending taxpayer money on a site-specific approach, the agreement "should require a significant reduction in toxic emissions compared to the level that would result from standard MACT compliance," Hawkins said.

Nancy Birnbaum, the EPA staff member working on the project, told BNA that the facility would conduct feasibility studies on the alternative compliance plan, and those studies should be complete before the MACT standards are even scheduled to take effect. EPA and Weyerhauser expect those studies to show that the facility's alternative compliance plan will produce far superior environmental results than what would be achieved under the MACT standard, she said. However, if the studies showed otherwise, EPA could then require the company to adhere to the MACT standard, which still would not have gone into effect.

"It's an evolving project," Birnbaum said. "We don't even know what the MACT standard will be yet."

In terms of improving water quality, the company seeks to halve its bleach plant flow to 10 cubic meters by 2006, EPA said. Current and proposed regulations do not curb such flow at all.

"The water environmental benefits of achieving this reduced bleach plant flow include substantially reduced discharges of all chlorinated and nonchlorinated organic pollutants, reduced effluent chronic toxicity, and reduced water use," the EPA letter said.

The facility also seeks to cut its solid waste generation in half by the same year through source reduction, in-process material recycle and reuse and material byproduct reuse and recovery, according to the draft final project agreement, which is available on EPA's Project XL Web site.

Weyerhauser's feasibility study would delineate pollution-specific effluent reduction benefits, provide data on the impacts of the new program on the various media and the trade-offs, and generate information on the process technologies needs to reduce bleach plant flow, EPA said.

Other regulatory relief the company seeks is in the area of reporting and testing requirements. The company will continue its emission and discharge testing but proposed that routine reporting of those actions be done only twice a year, with existing enforcement mechanisms remaining in place.

The company justifies its request to eliminate the daily reporting of discharges required under the clean water program with its demonstrated history of compliance.

Hawkins criticized this approach also.

"While this is commendable, we do not understand the need to eliminate this stream of information," he said in his comments. "XL projects should provide more information not less."

NRDC would support modifying the reports to make them more relevant, he said, and to make their transmission less burdensome to the company and those interested in reviewing them.

The agency also received many comments support the project, including from officials at the nearby Lake Blackshear Watershed Association, local city and county officials, the warden of Macon State Prison, which is less than half a mile from the facility, and a geologist from Georgia Southern State University.

Mostly, the commenters said the company had typically been "a good corporate citizen" and deserved the chance to try these reforms.

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