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Where there's smoke, there's fire.

The location of your U.S. roasting facility can make or break you - at least for now. With no federal requirement for afterburners, some state environmental agencies are putting roasters under fire while others are not. For example, New Jersey mandates afterburners, while Arizona and Idaho don't. But thinking you're in the clear because your state has no current requirements is unrealistic. With a pro-environmental vice president in the White House, a heightened awareness of the general public regarding air pollution, and the rapid growth of the specialty coffee industry, the non-regulating states could jump on the enforcement bandwagon. And small roasters may not be exempt.

Title III of the Clean Air Act charges states with the responsibility for attaining clean air quality within their jurisdictions. Generic pollutants are emitted in the coffee roasting process, according to the EPA Emission Inventory Group. Each state decides how much of these hazardous pollutants are acceptable, depending on that state's air ambient standards. Although an afterburner does not fully eliminate the emission of these pollutants, it further combusts them, according to the EPA Control Technology Center.

Roasting approximately 600 lbs. of coffee an hour on his three Probat roasters, wholesaler Charlie Newman of World of Coffee in Sterling, New Jersey, has had to become his own resident expert on afterburners. After Newman had been roasting for eight years without the devices, neighboring businesses complained about the opacity. As a consequence, Newman was fined and ordered to install a device to eliminate the smoke and odor. In addition to the cost of afterburners and equipment to eliminate odor, World of Coffee has had substantial incidental costs, including installment as well as remodeling and construction work. The total bill is running well over $100,000.

"The planning board in our local township has been dancing us around for six months or more. They are beating us up," Newman explains. "We are asking to alter our building so we can fit this equipment in, but instead of simply approving this, they are requiring a shingled roof, shrubs, etc. In the meantime, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection keeps putting the pressure on us and fining us for not correcting the problem."

According to Newman, large roasters such as Chock Full o' Nuts and Maxwell House have moved their operations out of New Jersey, although the companies maintain that the move was not a result of the state's stringent standards. For Newman, a move was out of the question, but he has needed deep pockets and the stamina to battle regulatory agencies to survive.

Newman's ordeal could be a harbinger of the future for coffee roasters nationwide as more complaints are filed. Case in point: Jerome Eberharter, ceo of White Cloud Mountain Coffee Co. in Boise, found the fire department ready for action when he roasted for the first time in a new location.

"We have a one-bag roaster, When you dump 150 lbs of French roast, you get this wonderful blue plume which is appreciated by some like me, but not by many others. The gas station down the street called the fire department," Eberharter recalls. "No strict EPA rules forced us to alleviate the opacity problem, but I did it to be ahead of the game and preserve goodwill with our neighbors."

The gas afterburner cost White Cloud $14,000 plus, and with its extensive use of natural gas, the company's gas bill rose from $100 to $300 a month. Roasting 35,000 to 40,000 lbs. a month, White Cloud now has the flexibility to roast during the day rather than just at night. Eberharter points out that the problem arose because of the visibility of smoke rather than a pungent odor.

However, odor could be a problem in some instances. Although a roaster in Seattle had neighbors complaining that they couldn't smell the coffee anymore after he installed an afterburner with an odor minimizer, the other roasters have had to invest in retrofitting afterburners with odor-eliminating equipment.

"Most of the afterburners being built do not have the ability to get rid of odor, so if you need to do so, you have to find someone who can retrofit your afterburner. That can cost from $500 to $15,000, depending on the size of the afterburner," explains Mary Curtis of Combustion System Sales, a Seattlebased manufacturer of afterburners.

The financial implications of air pollution regs on ill-prepared entrepreneurs could significantly alter the specialty coffee industry. Small roasters comprise a notable portion of the roasting industry. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has predicted continued growth of micro-roasteries at a rate of approximately 100 new operations per year. If deep pockets become the criteria for getting a roasting business off the ground, those jumbers could change.

"The little guys aren't benefiting," says Ron Schuler of Espresso Junction in Winnipeg, Canada. "The requirement of air pollution equipment is going to decrease the opportunities for anyone to get into business unless they are rich. Who's driving this environmental issue? Someone has a vested interest to see that roasters do not proliferate."

Schuler believes competition may drive the enforcement of environmental regulations. Before he could even open his roasting business, a competing coffee retailer tried to convince authorities that Espresso Junction should not be allowed to open without an after-burner However, large roasters, such as Nescafe, operate without them and oddly enough, the competitor himself had planned to begin roasting without an afterburner prior to Espresso Junction coming on the scene.

"Quite frankly," says Schuler, "I think it is a sour grapes kind of an issue. Basically, people who don't have roasters are envious of those who have them. Our competitor is a microcosm of a bigger picture."

Many would-be roasters may not even be informed of the need for afterburners until they have sunk monies into startup. Newman had not been informed that he needed DEP approval when he started his business eight years ago. According to Eberharter, roasters-to-be should be informed of any EPA requirements at the time when they apply for initial permits.

The investment and ongoing costs can be substantive. Curtis illustrates the point by listing the cost for a business using a 25-1b. roaster:
 $18,000 - roaster
 $15,800 - basic afterburner
 $5,000 - installation
 $4,000 - retrofitting
 odor elimination
 Total: $42,800 - excluding
 monthly gas bill

But for now, not every roaster has to install this equipment. Those who aren't required to do so have a competitive advantage, according to Curtis. "By not having to invest in an afterburner, they don't have to add the extra three or four cents per pound onto their coffee prices to pay for fuel consumption. They have a price edge on everyone else," he says.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:state environmental regulations and coffee roasting industry
Author:Friedman, Susan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
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