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IBM Plant Cuts Energy Use, Greenhouse Gases

The EPA has agreed to give IBM's facility in Essex Junction, Vermont, regulatory flexibility in handling its wastewater from a new manufacturing process that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

As part of the agreement signed Monday between the company, EPA New England and the state of Vermont, IBM's new process for producing computer chips will reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released from the facility. IBM will make other changes to its manufacturing processes to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% at its Essex Junction plant.

The agreement was negotiated under EPA's Project XL (eXcellence and Leadership) Program, which gives companies flexibility in implementing innovative projects to achieve environmental benefits.

As part of the agreement, EPA has promised to redefine as "non-hazardous" the waste coming out of the process. The new process uses an electroplating technique to deposit copper onto the chips. The rinse waters from this process are combined with other wastewaters, which produces a sludge that is regulated as hazardous waste because all wastewaters from plating processes are defined as hazardous. As copper is not considered hazardous in this waste stream, EPA was willing to make this redefinition.

If successful, the process could be installed at other facilities. The project will run for five years at the Essex Junction plant.

"The company offered to make additional voluntary reductions in greenhouse gases in return for some flexibility on regulations that, in this case, did not provide comparable environmental benefits," said Ira Leighton, acting deputy administrator for EPA New England. "The redefinition will not hurt the environment, but the greenhouse gas reduction will provide an environmental benefit for everyone."

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