After five years of give-and-take with the government, Amalgamated Sugar Co. is proposing to install equipment in its Nampa plant to reduce the output of gases that create haze.
The equipment wouldn't reduce the plant's odor, however.
The result would be clearer air in the Treasure Valley, but the impetus for the improvements isn't local pollution - it's visibility standards for distant national wilderness areas.
Views in Eagle Cap in Oregon, Hells Canyon in Idaho and Oregon, and several other wilderness areas around the Northwest are hazier because of nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants released during the sugar-refining process, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Amalgamated submitted a proposal to retrofit coal burners at the plant, which converts sugar beets into processed sugar. The proposal would reduce nitrogen-oxide levels and bring emissions under regional haze standards created by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to conform to the federal Clean Air Act. The proposal is open to public comment.
The DEQ and the EPA originally proposed a retrofit plan for one coal-fired boiler that would have cost Amalgamated an estimated $18 million, said Dean DeLorey, the company's director of environmental affairs.
The company proposed an alternative: Install new burners on three coal-fired boilers and shut down three pulp dryers.
DeLorey said Amalgamated's alternative - the proposal currently open for comment - is more realistic, would bring emissions within standards and would cost $8 million to $10 million less than the agencies' proposal.
"We wanted to rely on a technology we knew we could do that was tried and true and fit more with our economic profile," DeLorey said.
The plan has been a long time coming. Amalgamated has worked with the DEQ and the EPA for more than five years.
The EPA's original retrofit plan would have cut a different pollutant, sulfur dioxide, and would have reduced the plant's bitter odor.
The Amalgamated proposal would cut nitrogen oxide emissions in half, DeLorey said, but it wouldn't affect the smell because nitrogen oxide doesn't have an odor.
Amalgamated did reduce odor with a $20 million series of improvements in 2006 that reduced the plant's overall emissions, DeLorey said.
The plan would bring the plant's emissions below the regional haze standard, said Steve Body, air quality planner at the EPA regional office in Seattle. The two proposals are nearly identically effective in cutting emissions, which is what the EPA cares about.
"We do know that (the Amalgamated alternative) costs less, but we're mostly concerned with visibility in the Eagle Cap Wilderness area," Body said.
Because the EPA is only concerned about reducing pollutants contributing to regional haze, it will not consider public comments concerning odor, Body said.
An environmentalist said Amalgamated's plan would be good for Treasure Valley air.
"Idahoans like seeing the Foothills rise above the city, the vast vista in Idaho's central mountains and the horizon reaching across the Owyhee Canyonlands," said Ben Otto, energy associate for the Idaho Conservation League. "This plan provides better protections for these views."
Otto said the plan would also make local air safer to breathe. It would not, however, reduce the plant's emissions of greenhouse gases, which Otto said worsen wildfire conditions, reduce snowpacks that supply water to the Valley and contribute to extreme temperatures.
Otto said Amalgamated has shown good faith in working to reduce its haze-related emissions.
"In the end, (we) applaud (Amalgamated) for finding a flexible way to meet critical air quality standards ... and we encourage other facilities to follow this example," he said.
Zach Kyle: 377-6464