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Potlatch Gets Long-Awaited EPA Permit

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, March 12, 2005

Wastewater permit requires reduction of dioxin releases

Potlatch Corp. could soon be operating under a wastewater permit that has undergone more analysis and is more stringent than any issued in the Pacific Northwest.

Even so, the five-year permit is not as conservative as environmentalists and the Nez Perce Tribe would like.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permit governs the daily release of 40 million gallons of wastewater into the Snake River and the amount of pollutants it can contain.

"The requirements in the permit plus the measures Potlatch has agreed to implement will make Potlatch the most stringently regulated pulp mill in the Northwest," said company spokesman Mark Benson at Lewiston.

The permit will not require Potlatch to dramatically cool its wastewater during the summer as an early draft had proposed. But it does require the mill to chill the water by a few degrees. It also mandates the mill cut dioxin releases in half and calls on it to reduce sediments and nutrients in its wastewater.

Benson said it would cost the company several million dollars over the life of the permit to meet the new standards. The mill is currently operating under a permit issued in 1992, which expired in 1997.

Environmental groups had sued to force the EPA to write a new permit for the company. The EPA, Potlatch and various federal agencies have been working on the new permit since 1998. Its completion was slowed by extensive analysis required to make sure the mill's discharge does not harm threatened and endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

"This permit is one of the most rigorous analysis we have ever done with respect to looking at its effects on salmon and bull trout," said John Palmer, a senior Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act analyst for the EPA at Seattle.

In 1999 a draft permit was issued that required Potlatch to cool its wastewater from a high of 92 degrees to as low as 68 degrees during the hot summer months.

The company vigorously protested that permit and a new draft issued in 2003 required the company to reduce the temperature of its wastewater to between 89 and 86 degrees during the summer. The final permit issued Friday requires the wastewater to be between 88 degrees and 89 degrees.

The change, according to Palmer, was made because of region-wide studies that showed wastewater was not a significant contributor to high temperature problems in the Snake River. At the same time Idaho changed its water quality standards to allow companies like Potlatch to add warm water to rivers with naturally high summertime temperatures.

Mark Solomon, an environmental activist from Moscow, said he wants to see the analysis the agency is basing its water temperature standards on.

"Somehow the EPA is making the determination that the Snake River is hot at that point (Lewiston) because it is always hot at that point and it has nothing to do with any human influences up stream."

Darren Williams, a staff attorney for the Nez Perce Tribe at Lapwai, said the tribe continues to have concerns about the temperature of the mill's wastewater and the dioxin it contains.

The permit will take effect in May unless it is appealed. Neither the company, environmental groups nor tribe said if they planned to appeal.

Eric Barker
Potlatch Gets Long-Awaited EPA Permit
Lewiston Tribune, March 12, 2005

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