PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend Paper Corporation has agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will cost more than $300,000 for a violation of the Clean Air Act.
The incident has occurred since 2001 and was found when an inspector from the EPA’s Region 10 office in Seattle visited the mill on July 6-7, 2017, according to the consent agreement.
The mill was notified of the violation in April 2018, General Manager Kevin Scott said.
The source of the violation, a digester that cooks sawdust to make a pulp fiber as part of the paper-making process, will be decommissioned this fall when the mill expands and uses recycled fiber instead, Scott said.
“We very strongly believe PTPC operated this digester within the applicable rules as we understood them,” Scott said.
The settlement, which includes paying a penalty of $342,000, was reached on May 20, according to the consent agreement.
The EPA said not all of the emissions from the digester were routed to a control device.
“Specifically, the inspector observed that some digester gases escaped the rotary valve feeding sawdust and black liquor into the digester and were routed to either 1) a stack directly over the rotary valve, which vented through the roof to the atmosphere, or 2) an open-ended metering screw which transports sawdust and black liquor to the rotary valve, and which vents to the atmosphere,” the consent agreement said.
Scott said he was surprised with the finding because the rules have been in place for nearly 20 years.
“We’re not talking about something that was new,” he said. “These things all came about around the year 2000, when we were responding to the regulations, and we informed them [the state Department of] Ecology was the oversight agency.
“For the next 18 years, we’re going along thinking we were in compliance,” he said.
Scott said inspections from the Department of Ecology occur multiple times per year.
“We were very surprised when it happened, and we were trying to figure out what had changed,” Scott said. “We cooperated fully with them and really wanted to know what was going on.
“The good thing was we were able to sit down and resolve the issues, but I don’t necessarily believe their interpretation,” he said.
“Region 10 has advanced a novel interpretation of the rules.”
Scott said the decommissioning that will occur this fall will change the output because the mill will use fiber from recycled cardboard boxes instead of cooked sawdust.
“When we told them of our plan, we said, ‘How about we shut it down?’” Scott said. “They were very agreeable.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].