A BATTLE for the heart and soul of the White House is underway today in Washington. At stake is a bold presidential initiative to place the federal government at the forefront of public health and environmental protection. The subject of this frenetic activity is a proposed executive order that addresses the purchase of totally chlorine-free paper (TCF) for use by the federal government.
In the mid-1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency identified the use of chlorine in the paper industry as a source of dioxin in the environment. Further study revealed that dioxin was just one of approximately 1,000 chlorinated pollutants produced when chlorine is used to process paper. Dioxin has been linked to a variety of illnesses and developmental and behavioral difficulties in children. The EPA currently is undertaking a comprehensive risk assessment on dioxin. Preliminary reports show that, even in infinitesimal amounts, dioxin has significant health and environmental effects.
Unless the Clinton administration chooses otherwise, the pulp and paper industry will have succeeded in removing language included in earlier versions of the executive order that would have the federal government establish goals for its purchase of TCF paper beginning in 1995. The administration's provisions simply put the federal government on record in favor of environmentally preferable goods - there are no mandates for buying only chlorine free paper.
Although some would have us believe otherwise, the previous executive order language of TCF paper would not result in dramatic job losses, plant closings or force the government to buy paper from foreign suppliers. The chlorine-free production of the Lyons Falls mill in upstate New York could begin to supply the Federal government's purchases of printing and writing paper. Additionally, if a new Union Camp facility, which will come on line in the fall of 1994 in Franklin, Va., made an inexpensive switch to TCF production, it could conceivably supply much of the federal government's paper in a year. In fact, federal government printing and writing paper purchases account for less than 2 percent of the national total.
American companies possess the know-how to produce chlorine-free paper: Two major American papermakers hold patents for TCF pulp and paper processes that they are not currently using. Unfortunately, until recently there were no federal initiatives promoting the use of TCF paper. Despite rapid gains in the use of TCF paper abroad, the US paper industry has felt no need to pursue chlorine-free production. It is clear that the federal government best serves business when it leads by example in crafting responsible environmental policies that are as good for the economy as they are for the environment. By including TCF provisions in an executive order, President Clinton has the opportunity to harness the buying power of the government to improve our environment and create a climate where American business can compete more effectively in the world market.
The American public is ready for chlorine-free paper. McDonalds has begun using chlorine-free paper for its french-fry bags, and TIME Magazine announced last year that it would begin using TCF paper when a suitable supply became available in this country. In my district in New Mexico, Natural Choice, an environmental products company, produced the first catalog in North America printed on TCF paper. Our European competitors, facing the same public health and environmental problems that we do, have moved quickly to develop technologies to produce high-quality paper without the use of chlorinated chemicals. Canadian paper companies and governments are also responding.
The US paper industry has always been the world's leader. As a producer of pulp, the US is No. 1 in the world. If we are to remain preeminent, however, our industry will have to move quickly and convert to state-of-the-art technology. The technology by which paper is made worldwide traditionally has been American. The inclusion of TCF provisions in the president's executive order will encourage American business to stay at the forefront of the race for new technologies by switching to chlorine-free production.
Aggressive procurement of environmentally sound paper products by the federal government will complement tough new laws (such as the Chlorine Zero Discharge Act that I introduced in August) banning toxic pollutants. By dedicating our government to begin buying totally chlorine-free papers, the president will provide a guaranteed market to forward-looking paper companies that make the switch to cutting-edge technology. This is the kind of change that Americans want to see made possible with their tax dollars, the kind of change that benefits our environment and keeps our economy strong. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.