Polluting Wood Product Firm Fined $11 Million : Environment: Louisiana-Pacific's Clean Air Act violations net second-largest penalty in EPA history. Plants also to install new equipment.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imposing the second-largest civil penalty ever under federal environmental laws, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced a fine Monday of $11.1 million against Louisiana-Pacific Corp. for Clean Air Act violations at 14 of its plants.

Louisiana-Pacific either failed to obtain required air permits for the wood product plants or got them by using misleading information, the EPA said. The penalty is surpassed only by a $15-million fine assessed against the Texas Eastern Natural Gas Pipeline Co. in 1987.

Under the consent decree, the company also will be required to install $70-million worth of high-technology pollution control equipment at the facilities involved, which include one in Northern California. Due to be in place within two years, the high-temperature incinerators are expected to reduce pollution by more than 90%.

Harry A. Merlo, president and chairman of Louisiana-Pacific, said in a statement: "Although we are certainly disappointed with the penalty, we decided that the benefits of this settlement in avoiding litigation and providing us with environmental leadership opportunities made it the right thing to do."

Under 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, the government could have brought criminal proceedings against the company, but most of the violations took place before 1990, when the actions fell into the category of misdemeanors rather than felonies.

The announcement by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno and EPA Administrator Carol Browner came as a new study by the Washington-based Center for Resource Economics asserted that the EPA is unable to do its job credibly because of inadequate funds, political interference and mismanagement.

Browner defended the agency's level of funding in the Clinton Administration budget, which cuts EPA spending by about 8%, arguing that the Louisiana-Pacific case is an example of diligence by federal enforcement authorities. Both she and Reno cited the case as an example of the way the Administration intends to pursue environmental protection.

Browner said the fine is intended "to send a loud and clear message that the Clinton Administration will vigorously enforce our environmental laws. We will use the full range of our enforcement powers to make polluters pay for the true cost of pollution."

The violations at the 14 plants in 11 states were detected by officials comparing their permit requests with those submitted by the corporation's other facilities, she said.

Covered by the government action are plants at Oroville, Calif.; Chilco, Ida.; Missoula, Mont.; Corrigan, New Waverly and Silsbee, Tex.; Two Harbors, Minn.; Hayward, Wis.; Tomahawk, Wis.; Sagola, Mich.; Houlton, Me.; Clayton, Ala.; Jackson County, Ga.; and Urania, La.

"What we have here," Browner said, "is a company that was not giving full information. The available tools that were being applied to lots of other companies in this country were not being applied to this company because we did not have the information. The permitting system counts on people telling us what they are doing, how they are doing it and what they are doing to meet the standards."

Inspections of the facilities revealed excessive emissions of particulates, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide--all pollutants associated with respiratory ailments.

According to Browner, the investigation showed that the actions leading to the fine were initiated at the plant level rather than by corporate officials at Louisiana-Pacific's Portland, Ore., headquarters.

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