Back in the 1990s when Louisiana Pacific (LP) wanted to construct a new Oriented Strand Board (OSB) plant near Swan River MB., citizens raised legitimate concerns about Louisiana Pacific’s past track record in the United States and the type and amount of toxic chemicals to be emitted from the new plant.
Back then, LP was fined $11.1million by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for falsely reporting how much pollution the company was producing from its OSB plants in the US. At the time this was the largest fine in EPA history.
In addition to the hefty fine, LP agreed to install the best available pollution abatement technology in 11 of its OSB plants in the US. The technology was installed to deal with the tons of toxic pollutants being emitted, such as benzene, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), phenols, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide and Methylene Diphenyl Isocyanate (MDI).
Many of these poisonous toxins are known carcinogens and pose a serious health risks to both the community and to workers at the plant who may be exposed to these chemical toxins.
LP argued, unlike in the US, that they were under no obligation, nor was there any legal requirement to install the same pollution abatement technology in there Swan River plant, as there were no national ambient air quality standards in Canada.
At the time citizen in Manitoba were outraged at LP’s caviller attitude towards this important human health issue and argued effectively that Manitobans deserved no less protection than those in the US receive.
In the end, LP capitulated and announced that they would install Regenerative Thermal Oxidizers (RTOs.). But only after the NDP, who were the official opposition back then, raised numerous questions with the Filmon government in the Manitoba Legislature and when the federal government of Canada threatened to intervene and undertake a full federal panel review of the project.
This is unfortunately not the end of the story however.
Not having learned from its original run in with the EPA, LP was citied once again in 2006 by the Agency for emission violations at its Newberry, Michigan plant.
The EPA press release dated July 27, 2006 noted that the “EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment …and inhaling high concentrations of particulates can affect children, the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions.”
I would hope that our government’s mission is to protect public health and the environment as well, because as of January LP received from the government of Manitoba interim approval to shut down its RTOs until June of 2009.
Banking on people being too busy to notice during the holiday season, LP pleaded poverty and used a little known provision in Manitoba’s Environment Act to successfully convince the government of Manitoba that this request should be treated as a minor alteration under the Environment Act – meaning no public notification was needed for this initial request.
If this were not enough, LP came back to the government of Manitoba and requested that they be allowed to decommission the RTOs permanently and seek approval to increase its toxic emissions from the plant.
LP arguments for this request are as follows;
They cannot afford the annual natural gas bill, nor do they wish to absorb the electricity bill or the maintenance cost of running the RTOs, especially during tough economic times and when there other plants in Canada do not require RTOs.
Using this line of argument, I wonder if governments in Canada are inclined to eliminate healthcare from its budgets during tough economic times – I think not.
LP got a sweetheart deal from the government back in the 1990s when they received the right to cut 900,000 cubic meters of forest annually, at well below market rates. Various levels of governments also kicked in the cost of paying for the natural gas pipeline to go to LP’s front door – a $5 million dollar taxpayer hit I might add.
While I can appreciate the fact that the entire OSB industry in Canada is struggling to find ways and means to make ends meet, as the down turn in the US housing market has reduced the need for OSB, it should not come at the expense of the health of people living in the proximity of the plant near Swan River, Manitoba.
Furthermore, it is my understanding that LP still requires operation of RTOs in all of its US based OSB plants, this despite an even worse down turn in the US economy.
Once again, I ask, do not Manitobans deserve the same treatment?
The real reason for LPs request to decommission its RTOs permanently comes down to simple “Darwin” economics.
The RTOs installed in the plant near Swan River have a shelf life of approximately 10 to 12 years – this time frame has been reached.
It would cost LP approximately $10 million dollars to replace the dated RTOs at the plant and this is the real reason for the request for decommissioning.
Stan Struthers, the Manitoba Minister of Conservation, determined that this latest request by LP, to abandon the use of its RTOs all together, was a major alteration to LP’s Environment Licence and public notification of this request is mandatory under the Environment Act.
However, this does not mean that there will be a full public review of LP’s request by Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission.
People concerned with this latest attempt by LP to circumvent public health will need to write letters by March 4, 2009 to the Manitoba Minister of Conservation, requesting that the Minister deny LP’s approval to decommission its RTOs permanently.
It will be up to the discretion of the Minister, under the Environment Act, to approve or deny LPs alteration request.
Let’s hope the Minister has the same mission as the EPA “to protect public health and the environment” – as we to in Manitoba deserve the same respect.