In the midst of corporate decisions about the fate of their paper mills across the country, Smurfit-Stone in Missoula is turning its attention toward local issues, where the fate of its new environmental practices remains to be seen.
On December 11, the Montana Board of Environmental Review (BER) voted to set pollution limits for Stone's recovery boilers based on Stone's own proposal-one that environmentalists, the City-County Health Department and at least one member of the BER think is too lenient. Recovery boilers burn by-products from the paper-making process and emit particulates that are measured by "opacity," a technical term for how much sunlight can pass through an emission plume.
Under the new rules, one recovery boiler is limited to 35 percent opacity, which is measured every six minutes. The other two boilers are limited to 20 percent opacity. What many critics of the new rule are worried about are the allowances for exceeding these limits-Stone's boilers could go over the limits without penalty three to six percent of the time. According to a press release from Cold Mountains Cold Rivers, the new rule would allow Stone's Number Four recovery boiler to exceed the limits 5,256 of the 87,600 times it is measured each year.
"It would be virtually impossible for Stone to violate the new rule," says Billy Stern of the Native Forest Network, who, along with several other environmentalists, proposed a 10 percent opacity limit with no allowances. The BER rejected their alternative on procedural grounds.
"The whole process was an insult to democracy," Stern adds. "Only representatives hand-picked by the governor who live and breathe in other cities get to tell Missoulians how clean our air should be."
Ed Scott, Stone's director of environmental affairs, says that the new rule is a fair compromise. "Basically, the state board asked Stone to comply with a limit that is more stringent than federal standards, but it's something we believe we can work with. However, we do not intend to reduce our efforts to reduce our emissions."
|According to new state rules, the smokestacks at Stone Container may operate above established federal pollution levels three to six percent of the time.|
The board's decision on opacity limits comes at the same time as Stone released its pollution prevention plan with the help of independent consultant Bob Pojasek-the first of five plans that outline overall pollution prevention at the plant. The five-year plan was a part of a $650,000 lawsuit settlement from more than a year ago between Stone and Missoula environmental organizations.
Scott says that this first plan was no a big challenge. "Even before the pollution prevention plan was completed, we've done projects to improve our environmental practices," Scott says. "Even before the plan, it was not rare for an employee to give me a call and bounce an idea off me about how to reduce pollution."
However, this first plan has not lived up to environmentalists' expectations. Darrell Geist of Cold Mountains Cold Rivers says that the plan has serious deficiencies, which his group address in a letter to Stone from the environmentalists' attorneys. Geist says that Stone did not follow the consent decree which states that Stone must quantify the pollution sources at the mill.
"Stone was supposed to quantify where are the sources of pollution and what they are putting into the air and water, and they didn't do that," Geist says. "They should have quantified the economic and environmental implications of pollution prevention. Pollution prevention gets Stone to quantify the cost of doing business. This is very serious; their document pales in comparison to the way it is laid out in the consent decree."
Stone must respond to the letter within 30 days or both Stone and the environmentalists may find themselves in court this winter. Pojasek claims that as the plant goes through each of their 11 projects, the statistics will be provided. "That information ages very quickly," Pojasek says. "Each year those processes will be outlined with hard numbers as we go through each of the projects. That way those numbers are current, and we aren't working from old data."
Stern of the Native Forest Network says that the 11 projects outlined in the plan, which were all chosen by employees of Stone, are almost all studies, instead of implementation projects.
Pojasek claims that the studies will have a great impact because the mill could eliminate pollution in the design phase rather than simply controlling it in a later phase.
Stern's other complaint about the plan is its lack of information about reducing pollution during the bleaching process. Pojasek argues that the bleaching facility in Missoula may close, and then the prevention projects would have been a waste of time.
"It's the mill's feeling that there will be no bleaching at this facility so this may be a moot issue," he says. "We are expecting a decision anytime."
But Stern argues that the information about bleaching should have been provided, because it could be up to two years before the bleaching facility is closed, if it is closed at all. Tom Lange of Stone's corporate public relations based in Chicago says that the company has not made any decisions about the Missoula mill, but they have closed four mills in the United States and shut down one in Canada. Environmental manager Scott says that "the likelihood that we would be bleaching at this mill in the long term is less than 50-50."