As we look into 2013, the environmental regulations continue to be an issue of great concern for pulp and paper manufacturers worldwide. The re-election of the current US president seems to indicate that the population of the United States is, if not pleased, at least content with the current environmental policies in this country. My logic being, if it had been an issue, it would have risen to prominence in the election, which it did not.
Somewhere I read recently that 2013 will mark the year of greatest coal consumption in the history of the world. India and China are the drivers behind this metric. In the US and Europe, coal seems clearly on the way out, it is just a matter of how long it will take to choke off the last coal-fired power plant.
Perhaps the most interesting recent development, too recent to discern its meaning, is the announcement on Thursday, December 27, 2012, that Lisa P. Jackson, head of the US Environmental Agency, has announce she will be stepping down early in the new year.
Is she just seeking a new career path (she is rumored to be in contention for the Presidency of Princeton University), frustrated with “progress” in the Obama Administration, or concerned with the current congressional probe into an alleged secret email account she has been using to conduct official business? It has long been known that environmental groups are unhappy with the lack of aggression, from their point of view, on the part of the US EPA. Is that one of the issues?
But let’s come down from a lofty, theoretical perch to realities for the pulp and paper industry. Throughout my entire career, and my career started almost simultaneously with the creation of the US EPA, pauses in promulgation of tighter regulations have always been viewed, perhaps with wishful thinking, as a change in direction to a softer, kinder, gentler EPA. In the long run, this has never proven true. So, we can have fun speculating what a change in the guard means, but we should, for once, not take it as an inflection point in the outcome. The last pulp mill has been built in the United States over twenty years ago. No doubt the last coal-fired boiler has been built on a pulp and paper mill site. The EPA and the US Energy Department will no doubt fight over bio-boilers of any ilk, but based on the last 40 plus year history, my money is on the EPA winning that fight.