If its past is any indication, Georgia-Pacific certainly isn’t the environmental stalwart its website (.pdf) would have you believe. In 1995, the company allegedly lobbied members of Congress to avoid installing pollution gear at several of its plants. In 1996, the company settled a dispute with the EPA, agreeing to pay $26 million in environmental improvements in eight Southeastern states, including Florida. In addition to those improvements, the company was ordered to pay a $6 million fine to the U.S. Treasury. Georgia-Pacific has also been fined (.pdf) in the past for violating regulations of effluent waste in Canadian waters.
In North Florida, Georgia-Pacific is a well-known polluter of Rice Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River. Unfortunately for the Palatka community and the Rice Creek ecosystem, there are few regulations in place to slow the mill’s effluent waste. An examination of the priorities of Georgia-Pacific’s owners suggests why.
A previous article written for The Florida Independent looked at the relationship between U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, and Koch Industries, the parent company of Georgia-Pacific. Koch donated $5,000 to Crenshaw’s 2008 campaign and, in late June, he and fellow Florida Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Tallahassee, proposed a rider that would cut off funding to the EPA, preventing proposed water quality standards from going into effect.
The dealings at Koch Industries have long been shrouded in controversy. An August article in The New Yorker revealed Koch Industries owners David and Charles Koch to be men adamantly opposed to the Obama Administration and regulation in general.
The article cites a Greenpeace report that shows that “2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups.” The article further notes that Koch Industries is a “large funder of members of Congress who have stymied the E.P.A., requiring it to defer new regulations until more studies are completed.”
Koch Industries’ fight against regulation in North Florida likely has less to do with Georgia-Pacific’s Rice Creek plant, and more to do with the company’s hefty production of formaldehyde.
According to Jane Mayer, author of the New Yorker article, Georgia-Pacific’s annual production capacity of the carcinogen is 2.2 billion pounds. That number didn’t stop Traylor Champion, Georgia-Pacific’s vice president of environmental affairs, from sending a letter to federal health authorities stating that formaldehyde should not be treated as a known human carcinogen.
The president of Georgia-Pacific’s chemical division, Richard Urschel, was listed as chairman of the Formaldehyde Council on a 2008 income tax document (.pdf). The same document described the group’s main goal: “to encourage accurate scientific evaluation of formaldehyde and formaldehyde-based materials and to communicate sound scientific information relating to the uses, benefits, and sustainability of these products.”
Little surprise that the company that wants to redefine formaldehyde, identified by the American Lung Association as a “known poison,” should also want to duck new standards for how it dumps its waste into Florida waterways.