Times Argus (Montpelier, Vermont)  [Printer-friendly version]
November 15, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Citizen activists working with government
officials nixed a plan by International Paper corporation to burn 72
tons of rubber tires each day on the western shore of Lake Champlain.
The fight started in September 2003 and ended this week.]

By Darren M. Allen, Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER -- Less than a week's worth of data stopped what three
years of protests, regulatory appeals and state and federal court
hearings couldn't.

International Paper will abandon its efforts to use shredded tires as
fuel for the giant boilers that power its Ticonderoga, N.Y., mill.

In an announcement Tuesday, the company said the use of shredded tires
"would not be economically feasible at this time" and it was ceasing
tests of the effects of tire burning on air quality.

The announcement was greeted with jubilation on this side of Lake

"I hate to say it, but we told them so," Vermont Attorney General
William Sorrell said. "This is great news. It's unfortunate they had
to burn tires to pay attention to what we've been saying all along."

What Sorrell and other public officials from Gov. James Douglas on
down have been saying is that the plant should have been forbidden to
test tire burning until International Paper installed a pollution
control device known as an electrostatic precipitator.

Such a device is used to capture, among other things, tiny particles
that would ordinarily spew out of the mill's giant smokestacks when
tires are burned. As it happened, the plant approached its federal
pollution limits for those particulates when it began to feed shredded
tires into its boilers at a rate of less than 1 ton per hour.

Plant officials had hoped to be able to burn up to 3 tons per hour.

"We have a record now, and we now know that their case for not putting
on an electrostatic precipitator is much weaker," said Sorrell, who
tried -- unsuccessfully -- to thwart the test burn in New York and
federal courts. "The proof is in the pudding."

Plant officials sought permission to conduct the test to see if
shredded tires would be a viable substitute fuel. Using tires to
replace about one-tenth of the No. 6 fuel oil the plant uses now was
estimated to save the company about $4 million a year on its energy

But the test confirmed that doing so likely would require expensive
upgrades to its boiler and its pollution control devices.

"The permitting process worked and the voice of the people process
worked and the court system worked and when all of that comes together
along with a company that acts responsibly that did what it said it
would do, we are able to make sound decisions," said Donna Wadsworth,
the mill's spokeswoman. "The scientific analysis, modeling and
learning and then conducting the trial of the alternative fuel source
was very important. We were true to our commitment to operate in

Opposition to the test burn raged since International Paper announced
its intentions in the fall of 2003. Critics voiced concern over how
the smoke from burned tires would affect the air quality around Lake

Indeed, the plant, which sits on the lake's western shore less than a
mile across the water from Addison County, is Vermont's largest
polluter, even though it is in New York.

The test burn began last week, days after a federal appeals court in
New York City denied Vermont's last-minute appeal. Although the plant
was given permission to conduct 14 days of testing by New York
environmental regulators and the federal Environmental Protection
Agency, tires were burned for a total of about 40 hours over five
days. The test was halted Thursday after levels of particulates were
approaching federal limits.

Vermont's health department went on alert during the trial, and even
though no health warnings were issued, a handful of people registered
health concerns with the department.

Environmentalists had made the tire burn a cause celebre for years.
People for Less Pollution, an Addison County-based group formed to
oppose the test burn, was a key opponent.

"This is certainly good news," said the group's president, Richard
Carpenter. "They obviously concluded that, without an electrostatic
precipitator, it just doesn't make sense. Without one, they were going
to produce more pollution than the citizens of Vermont wanted to

Although it won't be able to save about $4 million a year on fuel
costs, the plant will remain an economically feasible part of
International Paper, Wadsworth said.

"This mill is a very viable mill making high-end products that are in
high demand with our customers," she said. "We are competitive, in
fact very competitive, in our market. Like any other business, we have
to look at cost effectiveness and at ways to stay competitive."

The paper industry is undergoing a global shift, with production
moving overseas in many cases. One of the Ticonderoga mill's key
selling points, Wadsworth said, is its proximity to "high quality
fiber" -- the millions of acres of hardwood trees that grow in
northern New York and New England.

Environmentalists weren't the only ones cheering the demise of tire-
derived fuel. The state's congressional delegation -- Rep. Bernard
Sanders and Senators Patrick Leahy and James Jeffords -- issued a
joint statement Tuesday evening.

"IP's decision to abandon its test burn of tires is positive news, but
we believe Vermonters should not have been subjected to these
emissions in the first place," the statement said. "If IP had not
taken this action, the delegation was prepared to call on the EPA to
shut down this test burn."

Contact Darren Allen at darren.allen@timesargus.com.

Copyright 2006 Times Argus