By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, April 22, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has upheld updated discharge limits for pulp and paper mills adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1998. The regulations were challenged by the conservation group National Wildlife Federation, which charged that they were too lenient to protect the public and the environment.
The court opinion, issued Friday, will allow enforcement of the 1998 regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the rules will "substantially reduce" discharges of numerous toxic pollutants, including dioxin, and will encourage mills to use the most modern and effective pollution control technologies.
Pulp and paper mills have historically used large amounts of bleaching chemicals, such as chlorine, as part of the paper production process, which can lead to discharges of toxic pollutants such as dioxin. The standards upheld by the court will require the adoption of more modern production processes by all mills nationwide.
To meet the new standards, existing mills will no longer be able to use the most harmful types of chlorine in the bleaching process, and new mills will need to implement additional process changes that will bring about further pollution reductions. The EPA has also adopted a Voluntary Advanced Technologies Incentive Program, which offers various incentives to mills to adopt even more pollution controls.
"Industry claims that the costs of addressing these threats will force plant closings and job losses are nothing but fear mongering," said NWF attorney Neil Kagan. "Yes, there will be some up front investment in doing the right thing, but over time the environmentally preferable option will cost the industry less. And can you even put a price on reducing the harm to people and wildlife?"
Exposure to chlorine based chemicals has been linked to increased rates of cancer, reproductive abnormalities, impaired immune systems, and learning and behavioral disorders.
The Justice Department, which defended the EPA in the case, said the court ruling shows that the EPA made the right decision in 1998.
Meanwhile, pulp mills in other nations are switching to the safer, cleaner oxygen delignification process, the NWF said.
"EPA has a legal and moral obligation to protect people and the environment from the dangers of these chemicals," said NWF president Mark Van Putten. "It does not have the option of staying with the status quo simply because the industry prefers it."