Trading of Pollution Rights Draws Fire

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ENVIRONMENTALISTS Sunday questioned the legality of a first-of-a-kind arrangement in Allegheny County, Pa., that allowed a new industrial plant to purchase the pollution rights from one of the nation's largest emission sources. Metallized Paper Corporation of America bought pollution rights from USX Corporation's Clairton Works and from the closed Papercraft Corporation plant in O'Hara township. The Clairton Works is the nation's largest coke plant and a major source of air pollution.

The arrangement doesn't sit well with environmentalists like Robert DeTorre of White Oak, who says, ``I don't think you should be able to buy the right to pollute.''

Some members of the county's air pollution advisory committee say they weren't consulted about the deals and no hearings were held.

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David Doniger, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmentalist group, says he questions the legality of the transfer.

``The last thing you want to do is pretend that emissions which are already gone are still out there and let somebody use them,'' Mr. Doniger says. ``It means you're moving backwards.''

County and state officials spent two years wooing Metallized Paper to the Mon Valley. Government and industry officials maintain emissions-trading is legal under a provision of the federal Clean Air Act and is a perfect marriage of environmental protection and economic development.

Metallized Paper plans to employ 300 people by its fourth year of operation. The firm will begin production in January at the former USX National Works site in McKeesport, applying a metal surface to paper wrappers for candy bars, chewing gum and other products.

The production process emits chemicals known as volatile organic compounds that will contribute to the formation of ozone, a respiratory irritant.

Allegheny County's air quality already violates federal health standards for ozone, or summer smog, but local health officials say longstanding provisions in the Clean Air Act allow limited industrial development in polluted areas.

A new pollution source like Metallized Paper can acquire pollution rights from plants closed in the past five years. Otherwise, new industry must emit lower levels of pollution than those from previous operations.

Metallized Paper paid USX $75,000 for the right to emit 75 tons of pollution a year. USX donated another 500 tons of rights to the firm and the company purchased an additional 32 tons from Papercraft, which formerly made gift wrapping paper.

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