Mill delays tire burn for environmental assessment

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(Host) A top state environmental official says a New York paper company should cancel a plan to burn tires at its mill near Lake Champlain if the procedure causes excessive air pollution. The International Paper Company wants to use the tires for fuel because the cost of oil has skyrocketed. But critics say there’s no safe way to burn the tires without harming air and water quality.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) After meeting with Governor Jim Douglas, executives at the International Paper Company agreed to delay the tire burn for at least a week so the state could review the plan. Vermont officials were pleased with the company’s cooperation.

But Natural Resources Secretary Elizabeth McLain says if the review shows that the tire burn is unsafe, International Paper should call off the plan.

(McLain) “I would really hope if there’s any indication of a negative impact that IP Co would voluntarily withdraw or not make any application to proceed.”

(Dillon) The paper company wants to burn tire chips at its Ticonderoga plant for about a month to gather data for an air pollution permit application. Vermont and New York officials, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will review the testing procedures for the month-long burn. McLain says the state will also look at the legal requirements, including whether the company needs a permit to conduct the test.

(McLain) “We’re really looking at all of the legalities of this whole situation, from the test burn to all the eventualities beyond that, because we just want to be ready with whatever we can do.”

(Dillon) The Ticonderoga plant is across a narrow section of Lake Champlain from Addison County. And local residents are upset with the proposal. Plant spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth says that if Vermont wants the test burn cancelled, the company will still try to convince regulators that the burn is safe.

(Wadsworth) “I think we’d have to look at their rationale, where they’re getting their information, what kind of analysis they’re making, and see if there is a way to satisfy their concerns.”

(Dillon) Critics of the plan say there’s no way to burn tires without polluting the air and Lake Champlain. They point to a possible increase in mercury emissions and other toxic chemicals.

Auditor of Accounts Elizabeth Ready, who’s from Addison County, says that’s too much of a risk for the 170,000 people who draw their drinking water from the lake.

(Ready) “It’s not an unknown. We know that burning tires in the kind of furnace that IP has – which is not retrofitted for burning tires – we know that there’ll be an increase in emissions.”

(Dillon) Vermont Senator James Jeffords has also asked the company to cancel the test. The company says they’ll respond to Jeffords sometime next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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