WASHINGTON - A North Carolina thermoformer took the stand before the U.S. Senate to say his biggest problem with 1990 Clean Air Act reporting requirements is not overregulation, but simply ignorance of when he might be in violation. Richard S. Wimbish, president of Techform Inc. in Mount Airy, N.C., employs 50 in a thermoforming operation that produces, among other items, blister packaging for the food, health-care and medical industries.
``Since the Clean Air Act of 1970, many plastic molding and forming operations have been considered to be `clean.' Other plastic fabrication operations that had emissions were considered too small from a regulatory perspective,'' Wimbish testified.
``But the 1990 Clean Air Act changed this,'' extending regulation to those previously exempt, he said.
Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee chairman Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., called for testimony concerning Title 5 of the 1990 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act, which requires major industrial sources of air pollution to file permits showing compliance to all existing elements of the act. EPA issued final rules in July 1992 regarding the size of industrial polluters falling under the reporting requirements of Title 5, but implementation was held up by an ongoing legal challenge.
In the meantime, states have put their permit plans into action to comply with federal Clean Air Act deadlines.
Support for Title 5 came from the Natural Resources Defense Council's senior attorney, David Hawkins, who testified that the original and stated intent of the amendments was to consolidate reporting requirements spread throughout the ``amorphous compilation of regulations'' that is the Clean Air Act.
Better compliance with existing standards is better than more or stricter enforcement, he said, adding that streamlining and consolidation was ``one of the fundamental improvements of the 1990 amendments'' over the original 1970 federal clean air mandate.
Other commercial interests testifying in the Aug. 1 hearing called for outright repeal of Title 5, but Wimbish took a moderate approach in his testimony in behalf of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the 35,000 workers he said are employed in the plastics industry in North Carolina.
Title 5 requires a self-inventory of pollution, but provides no defense for a company that makes a mistake estimating its output.
``Indeed, some facilities in the plastics industry combine several highly complex processes and use a variety of materials, greatly increasing the cost of preparing accurate estimates,'' Wim-bish testified.
``EPA should issue guidance that includes a checklist to help facilities, such as those in our industry, develop emissions estimates,'' he said.
``I'm concerned about the threshold over which we would cross and would have to perform a great deal more paperwork'' without actually performing any action to either reduce emissions or clean the environment, Wimbish said.
Techform, founded by Wimbish in 1962, was 54th in Plastics News' 1995 ranking of thermoformers, with an estimated $5 million in sales.
Wimbish said SPI is seeking ``a revised operating permit program that will be fair and equitable to the regulated community and will avoid unduly burdening small companies. SPI recognizes the need for an operating permit program, but we also believe that its requirements should be simple and clear.''