CANTON, NC—Responding to requests from concerned citizens, public health advocates and environmental groups, including Appalachian Voices, North Carolina’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ), held a hearing on January 8 regarding Blue Ridge Paper Products’ pending Title V air pollution permit for their mill in Canton.
According to DAQ, this employee-owned facility has been operating under separate permits for each piece of equipment, making regulation and enforcement extremely difficult. The federal Title V program was meant to benefit polluters, regulators and the public by incorporating each of these requirements into a single permit.
Despite the fact that plant officials used the hearing as an opportunity to showcase their $14 million dollar plan to reduce ozone-causing emissions from its coal-fired boilers by 40 percent, environmentalists, who once supported the employee buyout based on promises of a new era in environmental stewardship, are skeptical.
“These reductions are mandatory not, as Blue Ridge implies, voluntary,” said Dr. Harvard Ayers, Appalachian Voices’ Chairman. “Blue Ridge is making minimal efforts to address one pollutant, while the people and environment of Appalachia suffer. There is a lot more that Blue Ridge could do to fulfill its promise to be a better environmental steward.”
“Not so!” said a few others, like Steve Henson, director of the Southern Appalachian Multiple-Use Council. Henson expressed fear that any DAQ proposal for more than minimum air pollution standards would threaten the facility’s continued existence.
“That’s ridiculous. Henson’s fears are unfounded since DAQ has issued roughly 400 permits and has never proposed to close a facility or put people out of work,” said Scott Gollwitzer, Staff Attorney for Appalachian Voices. “Few, if any, people in this room want to put anyone out of work. All we want are the toughest practical standards that protect the health, the environment and the jobs of Southern Appalachia.”
DAQ and the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to act on the permit this spring.