Tire test burn gets green light

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(Host) A plan by the International Paper Company to test burn tires for fuel at its plant in Ticonderoga has received a green light from New York state regulators.

The tire burn is opposed by the State of Vermont over concerns that people living downwind from the plant would suffer adverse health effects.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) In approving International Paper’s application to burn tires, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation stressed that the permit is only for a two week test burn to evaluate the environmental effects. .
If IP wants to burn tires on a permanent basis, it will have to submit a separate permit application.

The department says it found no evidence that burning up to three tons of shredded tires per hour to power the paper plant would pose an increased threat to the environment or danger to the health of people living near or downwind from the plant.

The department says emissions from the test burn will be closely monitored to make sure IP doesn’t exceed the limits of its current permit.

(Burns) “The test itself is flawed.”

(Zind) Paul Burns is Executive Director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. He says the problem with the test burn is that New York regulators won’t be monitoring the smallest particles contained in the emissions.

(Burns) “That we can breathe right into our lungs and that can cause very, very serious respiratory harm. They’re simply going to make an estimate about the quantity of this fine particulate matter that will be coming out of the smokestack and I think that’s just not good enough.”

(Zind) There are currently no federal regulations governing small particulates, but New York regulators say they are following recommendations that these emissions shouldn’t exceed 15 tons per year – and again stressing that their permit is for a two week test. They say that level won’t be exceeded.

Burns and other opponents of the tire burn had called on regulators to require International Paper to install state of the art equipment to remove fine particulates before the test could be conducted.

Vermont Governor Jim Douglas had even proposed to share some of the expense, but the company said there’s no evidence the equipment is needed.

International Paper welcomed the decision. The company hopes to save millions of dollars by cutting down on the amount of fuel oil it burns. IP spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth says the potential annual savings are increasing steadily.

(Wadsworth) “When we started talking about this project three years ago, we anticipated that it could save us upwards to $1.2, $1.3 million. With current oil prices, we’re probably up over $4 million a year.”

(Zind) Wadsworth says whether or not the company applies for a permit to burn tires on a permanent basis depends on the test results.

(Wadsworth) “First of all, is it environmentally viable and second of all is it economically viable for us. Then we’ll decide whether the project has wings and we can move forward with it or whether or not we need to walk away from it.”

(Zind) Before it can conduct the test burn, International Paper will have to win approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. After that, Wadsworth says it will take the company another 30 days to prepare for the burn.

She says International Paper hopes to run the test in the fall.

(Sorrell) “This tire burn is not going to happen soon.”

(Zind) But Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell says the state will continue to work to stop the test burn unless IP installs state of the art equipment to reduce emissions. Sorrell says the state has already gone to court in New York and now will appeal to the EPA to deny the permit. Sorrell says if the EPA approves the permit.

(Sorrell) “We would be seeking an injunction against the tire burn taking place until litigation has run its course.”

(Zind) The New York Department of Environmental Conservation says it received more than 1,200 comments on the tire test burn permit.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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