BOSTON — As a manufacturer of coated fine papers used for magazines, annual reports and more, Sappi Fine Paper North America believes that operating as an economically and environmentally sustainable company is not an “either-or” proposition. And our policies and practices reflect just that.

Our Somerset Mill in Skowhegan is a world-class paper manufacturing facility that employs 830 people. In order to remain globally competitive, operating sustainably is an imperative at Sappi. We must minimize our impact on the environment while maximizing the positive contributions we bring to the economy – two benefits that can go hand in hand.

As an industry leader in sustainability, Sappi is fully committed to protecting the environment. Over the years, we have implemented a number of initiatives to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, increase our energy efficiency and stabilize our costs.

As part of that commitment, our Somerset Mill recently became a certified Green-e Energy organization with the Center for Resource Solutions.

Under that program, 100 percent of the electricity used to manufacture select coated fine-paper products at the Somerset Mill is made with certified renewable energy that is generated on-site. The energy is created from the burning of wood biomass, a carbon-neutral renewable fuel source.

Currently, however, that “win-win” approach of bringing both environmental and economic benefits through reduced fossil fuel usage at the Somerset Mill could be jeopardized by the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s pending Industrial Boiler MACT and Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials rules.

One of our main concerns is that the proposed federal rules would classify biomass fuels as solid waste. As a result, boilers that use biomass as fuel will be reclassified as incinerators, which could require the installation of expensive control systems costing millions of dollars for compliance.

For Sappi and many other companies that use biomass boilers, the EPA’s proposed rules would sharply increase our costs and cause a substantial financial burden. The costs associated with compliance and the continued use of biomass would be so costly that it would require us to revert to using more fossil fuels. Furthermore, we’d be spending capital that could otherwise be invested in future improvement projects at our facilities.

During the past year, Sappi has implemented several major projects at the Somerset Mill to improve energy efficiency, reduce the site’s carbon footprint and lower our operating costs, including a $49 million capital project that upgraded the pulp mill’s recovery cycle equipment and other manufacturing processes. Replacing biomass with fossil fuels would negate the environmental and efficiency benefits that were gained from that major investment.

As it stands, the Boiler MACT and NHSM rules discourage the use of renewable and carbon-neutral fuels and defeat the Obama administration’s goal to encourage the use of alternative energy sources. It’s “lose-lose” – promoting more oil dependence and diverting scarce capital that could be used to create jobs and grow the local economy.

However, this past week, a bipartisan bill calling for the revision of Boiler MACT rules was introduced by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

This bill — and the counterpart introduced in the House of Representatives – would give the EPA time to reconsider the proposed legislation and its subsequent impact on the local and national economy. The bill also calls for new rules with achievable standards by real-world boilers, the continued classification of biomass as a fuel, and for extended deadlines for compliance.

With revised, achievable Boiler MACT and NHSM rules, businesses small and large can protect jobs while maintaining energy-efficient and environmentally responsible operations. We applaud the efforts of the bill’s sponsors and those of other Maine lawmakers, such as Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe and Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who continue to seek ways to balance appropriate regulation and maintaining the vital paper industry in Maine.

Sappi is committed to protecting both the environment and jobs. However, to succeed, we need regulations that are achievable and affordable in the real world. We ask Congress to approve the bill introduced last Wednesday and give the EPA more time to revise the proposed Boiler MACT rules in a way that makes both environmental and economic sense.

This will help ensure the long-term sustainability of companies like Sappi Fine Paper North America and the contributions we make to our local communities and the economy.

 

– Special to The Press Herald