Monday, January 23, 2017

Chinese Buy Nutrient Indulgences in Virginia

New plant on James River to require 1st pollution trade of its kind in VA
A $2 billion paper and fertilizer plant under construction near Richmond is more than just the first U.S. venture for a Chinese company that claims to have revolutionized the papermaking process. It’s also the first project to test Virginia’s ability to add new industrial facilities to the Chesapeake Bay watershed while maintaining pollution caps set for the James River more than a decade ago.

Shandong Tranlin Paper Co., which is operating in the United States under the name Vastly, has more than 200 patents on its process to turn wheat straw from local farms into pulp for paper products and soil amendments that could then be sold to farmers.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe deemed the operation “the largest greenfield project ever done in the United States” when he announced last year that state officials had recruited the company to locate there.

But, for months before that announcement, according to emails obtained by the Bay Journal via a public-records request, the state’s environmental regulators were laboring to figure out how to accommodate a project like none they’d seen before. They expressed concern that it could undercut Virginia’s efforts to reduce nutrient pollution to the James River and the Chesapeake.
So, under Clinton protege McAuliffe, the Chinese are planning on putting a big polluting plant in Virginia. I wonder how many palms were greased for that to happen
The Department of Environmental Quality set pollution caps for the state’s largest dischargers in 2005 and 2006, determining how much nitrogen and phosphorus could be released by facilities on each waterway. Discharge limits on the James were set to be reduced over time as part of Virginia’s plan to improve the health of both the tributary and the Bay.

At the same time, a nutrient credit exchange program was established to give some flexibility to big dischargers — wastewater treatment plants, in particular — so they could meet tighter discharge limits without all of them having to make costly upgrades at the same time. But that program essentially gave existing facilities all of the nutrient loadings that officials believed the James River could handle, and many plants now have more credits than they actually need.

In theory, those plants could sell their excess nutrient discharge allowances or credits to other facilities. But the program was set up to only allow for trades among existing facilities and left little to no room for new businesses that might discharge a significant amount of pollutants. That wasn’t a problem for the state during the economic recession or the years that followed — but it is now
Of course not. Under Obama, there has been very little actual job growth (drops in jobless rate has been almost entirely due to a combination of people dropping out of the work force, and immigration.
When Vastly first approached other facilities on the James River about buying the excess credits, Burnley said, none wanted to sell. They preferred to keep their unused discharge capacity as a hedge against future growth or against future pollution reductions that might be required.

With Vastly unable to get the credits it needed, government officials who had recruited the company to the state realized the nutrient trading program they had created to accommodate new growth wasn’t working — at least not in the way they wanted it to. The McAuliffe administration had already heralded the arrival of the company, touting its multi-billion-dollar investment in the local economy and creation of 2,000 jobs by 2020. But behind the scenes, the state’s environmental agency was grappling with how to add a sizable new polluter to the substantial industrial activity already on the James River while continuing to improve water quality in the Bay tributary.
To make a long story short, eventually the McAuliffe administration eventually found a nutrient trading partner for Vastly:
Dominion’s Chesterfield plant, the likely partner in the Vastly deal, is downriver from the paper and fertilizer plant site.

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