AUGUSTA Maine – This morning, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit against International Paper (IP) in US District Court in Bangor.
“We are suing International Paper because the Androscoggin River below their papermill in Jay is so polluted that it has never met the bare minimum standards of the Clean Water Act. The river belongs to the people of Maine and it is past time to clean it up,” said Brownie Carson, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Maine’s leading environmental advocacy group. “A study commissioned by Maine’s DEP shows that the technology needed to clean up the river is available, affordable, and will make the mill more profitable in the long run, but IP has fought these improvements every step of the way.”
The IP mill in Jay, Maine, pours about 40,000,000 gallons a day of polluted wastewater into the Androscoggin River. One week’s worth of discharge from the Jay paper mill, poured into side-by-side gallon jugs, would surround the Earth’s equator. The pollution from IP violates state and federal water quality standards by:
- Lowering oxygen levels in river water so that native fish species, such as trout, cannot thrive there;
- Causing large, green mats of algae to form on the river in the summer, rendering the water unfit for swimming and further lowering dissolved oxygen levels;
- Smothering and killing the creatures that live in the river bottom below the IP mill when the water in the river is flowing slowly and the pollution settles to the bottom.
State and federal laws require the mill to have a permit to discharge this pollution, but IP has not had such a permit for many years. In fact, the last valid permit they were issued was in 1985, and it was for just one year. Even though it has no permit, IP continues to be the largest polluter on the Androscoggin, Maine’s dirtiest major river.
“Ironically, the Androscoggin is the river that inspired Senator Edmund Muskie to write the Clean Water Act, the law that brought life back to so many rivers in Maine and across the nation,” said Amelia Toledo, an attorney from NRDC. “It is unacceptable for this beautiful river that runs through the heart of Maine to continue to be treated as second-class. The people in communities along the Androscoggin deserve better.”
For many years, local residents, some lawmakers, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine have tried everything but litigation to clean up the Androscoggin.
“IP has brought this suit upon themselves by violating the law and refusing to make the investments in proven and widely used technologies that will clean up the river and make the mill more competitive,” said Carson.
IP recently announced that they may sell their mill in Jay. “Selling the mill could turn out to be good for the workers and good for the environment,” said Carson. “If it is purchased by a forward-looking company, we could be fairly certain that the mill will run in a way that meets Clean Water Act standards – something IP has not been willing to do.”
Background: The Androscoggin, Maine’s most polluted major river
The Androscoggin River below the International Paper mill in Jay has never met state or federal standards for clean water. “The river has been used as a dumping ground by the paper industry for more than a century. Although the fumes no longer peel paint off homes nearby, the water is still too polluted to meet minimum clean water standards,” said Carson. “It remains the dirtiest major river in Maine.”
Oxygen levels in the Androscoggin are too low to allow populations of Maine’s most prized species of game fish—trout and landlocked salmon—to thrive and reproduce. Phosphorus pollution from the IP mill causes massive summer blooms of algae slime, which make the water unusable for swimming and rob the water of oxygen fish need to breathe. Dead algae and other paper mill waste rot in the river and the bacteria that eat the rotting wastes suck oxygen from the water.
“The people of Maine should not be forced to accept this,” said NRCM’s Carson. “In Gilead, upstream from the International Paper mill, the Androscoggin River supports a world-class trout fishery that attracts tourists to Bethel and nearby towns. Here, the Androscoggin is a source of pride and recreational jobs and activities for the region. By continuing to embrace policies of pollution, IP is robbing communities in the lower Androscoggin Valley from enjoying the same benefits,” Carson added.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine has worked for more than a decade to ensure the clean up of the Androscoggin River. State government has repeatedly promised action but has failed to keep those promises. For example, in 2003, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wrote a letter to the task force working on the river. It said that her staff had developed a plan to write a new license for IP¹ that would have cleaned up the Androscoggin so it could finally meet state and federal requirements.
“I want to share my thoughts with you regarding what I see as a gratifying break through in our Gulf Island Pond Initiative…I now see us presenting a path to meeting water quality standards in Gulf Island Pond…I am now convinced that we can devise a reasonable plan that meets water quality standards…”
Letter from DEP Commissioner Dawn R. Gallagher, November 26, 2003
The plan was a good one, but inexplicably, far from implementing the plan, the Commissioner halted the task force meetings with no explanation. NRCM believes this action resulted from pressure by the paper industry, led by International Paper.
In early 2004, the DEP Commissioner went to the Legislature and said that DEP would support requiring the Androscoggin River to be cleaned up to levels equal to those in the Kennebec and Penobscot, very similar rivers that were once highly polluted but now are significantly cleaner. Within days, the Commissioner revoked her promise, saying instead that she would support a paper industry proposal to set a separate, weaker standard for the Androscoggin.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine and many residents of the Androscoggin River Valley fought against this harmful standard, but ultimately were not successful in the Legislature.
IP Shortchanges Maine
International Paper has consistently used the threat of job loss to justify its lack of investment in pollution control technology, but Maine can have a clean river and good paper mill jobs too. “For Maine to have a vibrant, competitive paper industry, its mills need to invest to reduce future operating costs and meet minimum environmental standards,” said Carson.
The State of Maine hired a world renowned paper industry expert to examine the costs of clean-up for the IP mill. In his December 2003 report, he concluded that International Paper not only could afford the costs of the widely used technologies that would clean up the mill, but that these same affordable, proven technologies would in fact make the IP mill more competitive by lowering the cost of pulp and paper manufacturing.
Despite the report’s findings, IP has continued to resist investing in Maine, even though doing so would have made the Jay mill more competitive. IP has behaved similarly in the past. In the late 1980s, IP vigorously fought legislation to reduce the levels of color, odor, and foam in the Androscoggin River, saying it could put the company out of business.
IP’s lack of investment in Maine is especially disturbing given the massive investments in their mills in the South and overseas. Since December 2004, the company has announced major investments including:
$300 million in Eastern Europe;
over $100 million in South Carolina at one of its most efficient plants; and,
a potential $1.2-$1.3 billion investment in South America. A decision on this is expected later this year.²
But while IP is pouring money into plants elsewhere, they continue to shortchange the Androscoggin River and the people and wildlife that use it.
A new, cleaner Androscoggin River can lead to economic opportunities as riverfront towns experience economic, recreational and cultural growth. Property values could rise as well. A University of Maine study shows that water quality in lakes can account for 15% of property value. Declining water quality lowers property values, and the authors conclude that, in Maine, “It is clear from our studies that the economic losses due to declines in lake water quality which have already occurred are real and very large.”³
“Our lawsuit simply asks IP to clean up the river and operate with a valid permit. We want the Androscoggin River to meet the minimum requirements of state law and the federal Clean Water Act. The river can’t speak for itself, so citizens need to speak for it,” said Carson. “That’s why we’re suing IP.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine is the state’s leading advocacy organization protecting our water, air, forests, and wildlife. A membership-based, not-for-profit organization, NRCM works to improve the quality of rivers, reduce toxic chemicals threatening human and wildlife health, decrease air pollution, and conserve Maine lands, now and for future generations.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. is the nation’s most effective environmental action organization. NRDC uses law, science and the support of more than 1 million members and online activists to protect the planet’s wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all living things.
 Department of Environmental Protection. 2003. Letter from Commissioner Gallagher to interested parties. November 26.
UBS. 2004. UBS Investment Research, International Paper. P. 2
 DEP website: https://www.maine.gov/dep/blwq/doclake/research.htm