The Trouble With Pipelines
On March 18, 1997, Chip
Aiken stood before the large crowd and held up a watch with a new, 36-month battery.
Entering the watch into the public record, Aiken issued his promise and his challenge:
"If the permits we seek are approved quickly, this project will be completed before
the battery runs out."
The venue was the armory in Perry, Florida, and the occasion was yet
another in a long line of permit meetings and hearings. The project that Aiken, then plant
manager at Buckeye Technologiess Foley pulp mill, referred to involved a pipeline to
move the plants wastewater discharge point further downstream on the Fenholloway
by jacquelyn horkan, editor
Denied: The Trouble With Pipelines
On March 18, 1997, Chip Aiken stood before the large crowd and held up a watch with a
new, 36-month battery. Entering the watch into the public record, Aiken issued his promise
and his challenge: "If the permits we seek are approved quickly, this project will be
completed before the battery runs out."
The venue was the armory in Perry, Florida, and the occasion was yet another in a long
line of permit meetings and hearings. The project that Aiken, then plant manager at
Buckeye Technologiess Foley pulp mill, referred to involved a pipeline to move the
plants wastewater discharge point further downstream on the Fenholloway River.
The project, designed to make the river suitable for fishing and swimming, was the
result of a three-year, $3 million scientific and technological analysis of methods to
remediate the plants impact on the river. The studies showed that, with the pipeline
and process changes in the mill, the health of the river could be restored without
degrading the estuary at the mouth of the river.
Today Aikens watch ticks on with about 10 months of life left. Aiken himself has
moved on to the companys Memphis headquarters where he is vice president of business
systems. But the project remains stalled.
In March of 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency objected to the Buckeye permit
and asked Buckeye to consider other alternatives to the pipeline. In return for
implementing its favored technologies, EPA dangled a carrot: Buckeye would receive a
variance on water quality standards, indefinitely delaying achievement of Class III
fishable, swimmable standards for the river.
"Heres an irony," says Dan Simmons, a spokesman for Buckeyes
Foley mill. "The industry wants to go all the way to meet the letter and spirit of
the law, to meet the Class III standards for the river, and our critics are saying,
Well lets not go all the way right now. "
After EPA registered its objections to the permit, it sent a team of consultants to
Perry to evaluate the mill.
"We invested significant dollars in actually bringing some of the best technical
people that EPA has available to see if there was an in-plant improvement approach that
would bring the kind of environmental benefits that would be in the same price range as
the pipeline," says John Hankinson, regional administrator of EPA Region 4 and the
federal agencys overseer of the Buckeye permit.
According to EPAs consultants, by implementing a technology called oxygen
delignification (along with other recommendations), Buckeye could eliminate the need for a
pipeline, all for a cost of about $48 million, approximately the same amount it planned to
spend on the Fenholloway project.
EPA believes that its recommended technologies will help the river while improving the
companys efficiency, mainly through recycling of chemicals and cutting back on water
"If youre going to spend $50 million," says Dan Bodien, EPAs
resident expert on pulp mill technology, "youre better off to put the money
into the mill than to spend it to move the same amount of pollution."
But when Buckeye asked BE&K Engineering to estimate the cost of implementing
EPAs recommendations, the price tag jumped to $97 million, twice EPAs
prediction. Sondra Dowdell, a chemical engineer who heads up Buckeyes corporate
communications office in Memphis, explains the difference between estimates as a
difference in methods used.
"EPA used a cost-model," she explains, "which in engineering terms is
sort of a conceptual way to cost technologies. We went one step further, really two steps
further, and asked our engineering partner to estimate how much it would cost to install
the technologies in our plant specifically."
The different cost estimates have become contentious. Bodien and Don Anderson, another
EPA technical expert, say they havent seen Buckeyes numbers and attribute the
gap to a padding of numbers by the company. Hankinson, who has seen the BE&K report,
believes the numbers would actually be closer if the project were implemented.
"The folks who own and operate the mill have a level of knowledge of the facility
that someone coming from the outside wouldnt have," he says. "And I give
way to that when I look at the numbers."
Buckeye and EPAs dueling experts are in accord on one aspect of EPAs
proposal. Both predict that the company would save about $4 million a year on operating
costs. But even if they agreed on the capital costs, there would hardly be a
dollar-for-dollar trade-off between the cost of the pipeline and EPAs
recommendations, because the pipeline only represents about $30 million in the total
Fenholloway cost. Another $20 million has already been spent on in-plant process changes
to reduce the amount of color in the effluent by 50 percent, a goal reached last autumn.
Buckeye is also preparing to spend another $30 million to implement one of the other
in-plant process changes recommended by EPA.
As this suggests, money is not Buckeyes primary objection to EPAs
Blinded by Science
In 1954 Procter & Gamble built the mill on the site of an abandoned town named
Foley, just north of Perry. In 1993, Proctor and Gamble sold its Buckeye Cellulose
division, including the Foley mill, to a consortium of former employees.
The Foley mill extracts a substance called cellulose from pine trees. The cellulose is
sold to companies that use it to make products ranging from disposable diapers to
automobile tires to pharmaceuticals to plastic eyeglass frames. The remaining parts of the
trees are either burned to produce energy or they are sent through a wastewater treatment
plant; whats left over is discharged into the Fenholloway.
The leftover parts of the tree are the major source of the Fenholloways problems.
They cause the water to run darker, saltier, and with lower levels of dissolved oxygen
than is normal. The portion of the project designed to reduce color has already been
completed. The pipeline would take care of the problems of salinity and oxygen by moving
the effluent to the estuarine area of the river, where the salty water of the Gulf of
Mexico blends with the fresh water of the Fenholloway. The higher volume of water flow in
the estuary would mitigate the effluents low levels of dissolved oxygen.
The primary basis of the opponents objection to the pipeline is summed up in a
couple of environmental slogans: "Dilution is not the solution to pollution,"
and "There is no such place as away."
To a certain degree they are correct. As EPAs Anderson explains it, "If
Buckeye were on the Mississippi River, there would be greater assimilative ability."
In other words, sometimes dilution is the solution to pollution. Thus was born the idea
of a pipeline. During dry spells the river often slows to a trickle in some places. At the
current discharge point, there are times of the year when the mills effluent
comprises almost 100 percent of the rivers flow. The pipeline, however, would move
the discharge point 23 miles downstream to a spot in the river where assimilative ability
Opponents of the pipeline claim that it will worsen the effluents impact on the
estuarine area and the gulf, an allegation that defies common sense.
"The pipeline opponents dont seem to understand that water flows
downhill," says Simmons, "that the neckbones connected to the head
bone." In other words, the effluent is already flowing into the estuary and the gulf;
the pipeline would just get it there by a different route.
A pipeline is a pragmatic solution to a problem, offering immediate relief to the
river. Opposition to a pipeline is ideological, based on a belief that the only
environmental goal worth pursuing is pollution prevention, turning factories into
closed-loop systems so that nary the two Ñ industry and environment Ñ shall meet. So the
question about oxygen delignification is not how much it will cost, but what it will
Political Flora and Fauna
Oxygen delignification is an expensive technology," says Sondra Dowdell. "But
even if it werent expensive, it still would not deliver on our objective, which is
to restore the river."
According to Dowdell, oxygen delignification would improve the problems with dissolved
oxygen and salinity, but not to the degree required to return the river to a healthy
state. For example, the standard Buckeye must meet for salinity at its current discharge
point is 1,275 (moh/cm. Today, they are at 2,000 to 2,200 (moh/cm; the EPA technologies
would bring them to 1,700 to 1,800 (moh/cm.
EPA officials agree that their recommendations will not solve the rivers problems
but say they are trying to prepare the company for new environmental rules that will be
released in a few years. Dowdell concedes the point.
"I believe they started off in good faith with us," she says, "wanting
to make sure that we didnt relocate the discharge point and then still have to come
back and spend more money on some cluster rule technologies."
The cluster rule technologies she refers to are an attempt by EPA to integrate all
water, air, and land pollution regulations into one. In developing the cluster rules, EPA
sets guidelines for plant discharges based on what the regulators believe can be achieved
using best available technology. Cluster rules have already been established for most of
the nations pulp and paper mills. The Foley mill, however, falls into a special
category that was exempted from the first round because there are only three such mills in
the country (two other mills in a similar category will also be included in the next round
The first round of cluster rules was surrounded by controversy. EPA, at the behest of
environmental groups, had planned to use the cluster rules to mandate the installation of
oxygen delignification systems in every U.S. mill. The mandate was eliminated from the
final rule, much to the consternation of environmentalists who did not hesitate to make
their anger public.
Some paper industry insiders believe that Buckeye is being made a scapegoat for the
environmental communitys displeasure over the first round of cluster rules.
According to this analysis, environmentalists are flexing their muscles in preparation for
the upcoming presidential campaign. EPA administrator Carol Browner is a protege of Vice
President Al Gore, who will want to pacify his core constituencies in the months leading
up to the 2000 elections. And according to rumors, Browner is casting an ambitious eye at
the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Connie Mack in 2001.
It does seem to be the case that pressure is being applied from above. In a memo to her
supporters, pipeline opponent Linda Young urged them "to let Carol Browner know how
much we appreciated [EPAs assistance]." Young is the Southeast field
coordinator (in fact, the only field coordinator) for the Clean Water Network, a coalition
of environmental activist groups. She has become the lead spokesman for the anti-pipeline
Adding intrigue is the matter of timing. The final draft of the first round of cluster
rules was issued in November of 1997. One month later, the Buckeye permit was submitted to
EPA. Three months after that, in March of 1998, EPA formally objected to the permit. One
of the most outspoken opponents of the cluster rules was Jessica Landman of the Natural
Resources Defense Council. Landman is co-chair of the Clean Water Networks steering
Youngs memo also helped damage any trust remaining between Buckeye and EPA. The
assistance Young wants Browner thanked for involves the scheduling of an open meeting,
demanded by Landman and Young, in Tallahassee on January 14, 1999, to discuss pulp mill
technology. EPA, however, neglected to advise Buckeye or the Perry newspaper about the
meeting. Hankinson insists that there was no subterfuge involved, that it was merely a
service to concerned citizens. Nevertheless, the episode hardened suspicions at the
company that it will not receive impartial treatment from EPA.
Buckeye, EPA, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have spent
the last year in negotiations over the permit, a process that now seems irrevocably
stalled. EPA refuses to approve the pipeline and Buckeye refuses to install technologies
that it says are too expensive, will hamper their ability to produce some of their brands
of cellulose, and will not help the river. DEP is left in the middle as the agency that
prepared the permit pursuant to legal guidelines but cant get EPA to bless it.
According to Jennifer Fitzwater, a DEP lawyer, the next formal step in the process
would be for EPA to grant a public hearing to reconsider its objections to the permit.
Unlike Florida, however, federal law does not include an independent review mechanism. The
federal hearing officer who would hear the appeal would be none other than John Hankinson,
the official who rejected the permit in the first place.
"EPA does have the upper hand," Fitzwater admits.
Furthermore, EPAs objections are not really based on solid grounds. To qualify
for the permit, Buckeye has to show that it is meeting the effluent guidelines, which it
is, and that it is meeting water quality standards, which with the pipeline it would. Both
Fitzwater and Jerry Brooks, assistant director of DEPs Division of Water Quality,
say that EPA began by couching its objection to the permit in terms of water quality
standards, but it quickly became apparent that EPA really was objecting to the idea of a
pipeline as a technological solution to pollution.
"I support technology to improve effluent," says Brooks, "but in the end
[Buckeye] has to meet water quality standards and we cant compromise that."
Carefully monitoring the situation are two other Florida mills, the Georgia Pacific
facility in Palatka and the Champion mill in Cantonment. Both are similar to the Foley
mill in that they discharge into small rivers with insufficient assimilative ability. Both
Georgia Pacific and Champion are investigating the option of pipelines, but neither has
reached the permitting stage.
What happens next is hard to guess. John Hankinson and Linda Young appear to have
placed their hopes for progress in the new governor and secretary of DEP. Linda Young has
written her supporters to warn them, "While we want to give the new administration an
opportunity to do the right thing, we have to be ready to put as much pressure as
necessary on them."
The anti-pipeline crowd may hope to make the Buckeye permit a litmus test for the new
secretary of DEP, David Struhs, forcing him to prove his environmental credentials in a
state where any sensitivity to business concerns is viewed as environmental apostasy.
Some of the pipeline opponents believe that Buckeye is just stalling for time, but if
the deadlock is hurting anyone, it is the company. The global economy and pressure from
customers to reduce prices resulted in a drop in earnings for the quarter ending in
December. The development of new absorbent materials is also shrinking the market for some
of the pulp made in the Foley mill.
Those, however, are the typical pressures of competing in a global marketplace. More
frustrating are the stalling tactics of federal bureaucrats who seem concerned with
neither environmental nor economic progress.
"Buckeye Foley does not have unlimited funds to spend on piecemeal solutions and
still operate as a financially successful business," says Robert E. Cannon,
Buckeyes chairman and CEO.
"Ive talked to Bob Cannon and he has made it clear to me, as recently as a
couple of weeks ago, that they are not a pipeline advocate," says Hankinson.
"They want a result that puts them in compliance with the law."
The problem from Buckeyes perspective, however, is that no one has come up with
an alternative to a pipeline that achieves that objective.
"Our critics have said, Lets blue sky this, "says Simmons.
" Set aside science. Set aside the legality. Set aside economics. Well,
if we get rid of good science, economics, and the law, weve got nothing. You get rid
of all that and youve got nothing.
On the Record
In 1947, the city fathers of Perry, Florida, asked the Legislature to designate the
Fenholloway River for industrial usage, hoping to lure jobs to rural Taylor County. The
Legislature obliged and in 1954, Proctor and Gamble opened the Foley mill for production.
In the next decade, however, the nation underwent a cultural change as environmentalism
entered the mainstream. Suddenly the project to ameliorate the impact of industry on the
environment became a major public concern.
"Buckeye is owned by a bunch of retired Proctor and Gamble managers," says
Linda Young of the Clean Water Network. "They were in the pulp and paper business in
a different era. There was a lot of resistance in the older management-type people to
cooperating with [environmental] regulations." Actually, efforts to clean up the
Foley mill began more than three decades ago and continue to this day. Heres a look
at the Foley's mill environmental progress:
1964 - Planning is begun at the Foley mill for one of the nations first
industrial wastewater treatment systems.
1970 - A program to reduce air pollution at the mill is begun. President Nixon
1972 - Congress enacts the Clean Water Act.
1974 - Congress enacts the Clean Air Act.
1977 - The mill is one of the first recipients of the Izaak Walton Leagues
water quality improvement award for taking "independent, voluntary actions above and
beyond the call of duty to abate water pollution."
1989 - A sulfur emission control program is brought on line, eliminating the rotten
egg smell associated with pulp and paper mills.
1990 - A $40 million chlorine reduction project is completed, making the
mills wastewater three times cleaner than federal dioxin standards.
1998 - Buckeye completes a $20 million project to reduce by 50 percent the color of
the effluent discharged into the Fenholloway.
1999 - Buckeye begins a $30 million project to improve the quality of its
discharge. Another project is begun to restore wetlands at the headwaters of the
Fenholloway in order to increase flow in the river. Foley mills environmental
May/June 1999 -- Florida Business Insight, PO Box 784, Tallahassee, Fla.