NEW COLUMBIA - Tension ran high at the state Department of Environmental Protection's recent meeting about the approval of an air quality permit for a tire-burning facility in White Deer Township in Union County.
"We're trying very hard to be respectful, but this is an emotional issue for us. The inside of our stomachs are boiling," Pat Parker, of Lewisburg, said during the question-and-answer session.
An appeal of DEP's air quality permit approval for the En-Tire Logistics of Milton PA LLC facility was filed Tuesday by Pete Mackey, of New Columbia.
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade asks officials from the state Department of Environmental Protection to “take back” their approval of a tire-burning facility’s air quality permit during a question-and-answer session Tuesday in Watsontown, while other residents line up to share their opinions.
"I am a citizen with no financial means of hiring legal counsel for this process," Mackey said in an Oct. 22 letter to the Environmental Hearing Board, requesting legal support for his appeal.
Prior to fielding questions from the public, DEP Air Quality Program Manager Muhammad Zaman explained the agency's process for reaching its decision.
"Any plan that can meet applicable state and federal requirements must be approved," Zaman said.
Because the facility would be a major emissions source, the department consulted with the federal Environmental Protection Agency prior to approving the permit, according to Zaman.
"The EPA wanted to make sure the company had an adequate monitoring plan. We agreed to enhance some monitoring requirements," Zaman said.
While the EPA had "no concern with the final (permit) issuance," according to Zaman, the public, on the other hand, was indignant. New Columbia resident Flora Price worried that the tire burner would detract from her rural quality of life.
"I can't imagine burning tires without some kind of an odor. I do not like the idea of having a malodorous place when we're an agricultural area and I'd like to keep it that way," Price said.
Citizen Jake Jacobson was concerned that DEP may have used biased data to establish some of the facility's limitations.
"The higher heating value was provided by the Rubber Manufacturers (Association), which is an industry organization that is not peer-reviewed," Jacobson said.
"The higher heating value is not the primary (concern). The department is primarily concerned with the emissions," Zaman said.
"Would this plan have been approved if this (facility) was going to be built upwind from your family?" Jacobson asked.
"If it met all applicable regulations, absolutely," DEP Northcentral Regional Director Marcus Kohl answered.
White Deer Township Emergency Management Coordinator Larry Maynard wanted to know who would be responsible for monitoring the company's emissions.
"Monitoring would be done by the company," Kohl said.
"That sounds like the fox guarding the hen house, don't you think?" Maynard said.
DEP does not have the resources necessary to monitor every facility it permits, according to Kohl.
"If we suspect the data is faulty, we would conduct our own investigation," Zaman said.
A grassroots group opposed to the tire burner circulated a petition outside the meeting, asking National Gypsum, which plans to use energy generated by the tire burner to power its manufacturing operations, to end its partnership with En-Tire Logistics.
"In other words, keep the jobs but find a new power source," said Samantha Pearson, of Stop The Tire Burner.
Despite the fact that DEP established limitations that are more stringent than federal regulatory requirements, the department anticipates additional appeals of the permit approval, according to Community Relations Coordinator Daniel Spadoni.
"We certainly heard the community loud and clear that this was something that was not popular," Kohl said.