MONTPELIER - With Attorney General William Sorrell by his side, Governor Jim Douglas vowed Monday that Vermont will "exhaust all our legal options" to stop a proposed test-burn of shredded tires at the International Paper (IP) mill in Ticonderoga, New York. Sorrell also announced his intention to file an 11th-hour appeal of last month's New York Supreme Court ruling, which denied Vermont's petition to stop a burn permit from being issued.
"No tires will be burned without a fight, and a big fight," Sorrell added. "There's no reason, in our view, why we should be guinea pigs . . . for this test burn."
Meanwhile, IP cleared another administrative hurdle Monday when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refused to raise any objections to IP's test-burn application. The EPA's action - or more accurately, inaction - effectively cleared the way for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to issue a two-week burn permit. On Tuesday, Sorrell formally asked the EPA to reconsider that decision.
IP has asked the New York DEC for permission to conduct a two-week trial burn, during which it would incinerate approximately 144,000 pounds of tire chips each day. IP says the test will help the company determine both the economic and environmental feasibility of using tire-derived fuel, or TDF, as a supplemental energy source. IP claims that burning TDF could replace about 10 percent of its current oil usage and save the mill about $1.5 million per year - a savings it claims is vital for the plant's economic survival.
But opponents of the burn, including Vermont's governor, its entire congressional delegation and large numbers of Vermonters living downwind from the mill, contend that it's both dangerous and irresponsible for IP to burn tires without state-of-the-art pollution-control equipment. At a public hearing last November in Ticonderoga, Douglas offered to help IP pay for such a pollution-control device, known as an electrostatic precipitator. This week, Douglas said that IP never formally responded to his "olive branch."
On Monday, Douglas reemphasized that the intention of all this legal maneuvering is not to shut down the IP mill or to impair its operations, but simply to urge IP to install the same pollution-control equipment the company uses at its other mills that incinerate tires.
"Why they resist doing it for the test burn at the Ticonderoga plant I just don't understand," Douglas said. "We have the best air in New England, according to the EPA. I want to make sure it stays that way." Douglas has pledged at least $250,000 in state funds to fight the burn in court.
IP has said that it will take at least 30 days from the time a permit is issued before it could be ready to conduct the burn. However, IP won't even consider installing an electrostatic precipitator, which costs about $5 million, until after a test burn is completed and the emissions data analyzed.
"Our position has always been that we are open to putting any pollution-control device on that boiler that is merited," said IP-Ticonderoga spokesperson Donna Wadsworth. "But we have to do a trial in order to understand what pollution-control device is needed."
Attorney General Sorrell wasn't buying that argument. As he noted Monday, IP's own permit application claims that burning tires could release at least 21 different hazardous contaminants - among them mercury, arsenic, chromium, lead and other heavy metals - at least eight of which are considered "serious toxicological contaminants," or known human carcinogens. Another major health risk, Sorrell added, is the potential release of dioxins, which are among the most dangerous of all pollutants to living organisms.
Whatever emissions are released by burning tires would add to IP-Ticonderoga's current output of pollutants. In 2004, the IP mill reported an output of 615,000 pounds of air, water and solid hazardous materials, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Index. That output was nearly double Vermont's entire annual output of pollutants that year.
Moreover, environmentalists fear that the EPA's acquiescence on this burn could be a harbinger of a more serious rollback of emissions laws. "This is more than just one particular plant," said B.J. Ernst, of the Northeast Clean Air Coalition in Addison. "This is a precedent to weaken the federal Clean Air Act. If IP gets this one through, they'll be able to take the pollution-control devices off their other plants, and other polluting industries will quickly follow suit."
Sorrell noted Monday that his office is considering other legal avenues, including a federal lawsuit, a petition in New York court for an injunction to halt the test burn, and a citizens' suit similar to the one filed by several northeastern states against American Electric Power, which operates 10 coal-fired power plants in the Midwest. Ironically, both Vermont and New York are plaintiffs in that suit.