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Virginia Republicans Defend Mercury Paper

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A deforested area of rainforest in Riau Province Sumatra, a source of wood pulp that environmentalists say goes into Mercury Paper products.
World Wildlife Fund
A deforested area of rainforest in Riau Province Sumatra, a source of wood pulp that environmentalists say goes into Mercury Paper products.

Virginia’s Governor and Lieutenant Governor are crusading for a surprising cause: writing letters to retail chains, asking them to keep buying toilet paper and paper towels from a Virginia company. Mercury Paper is the target of a boycott because its supplier, Asian Pulp and Paper, is accused of raiding the rainforest for raw materials.

Republicans step up to bat for Mercury Paper

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has stepped in on the company's behalf, writing letters in an attempt to keep Mercury customers in the fold.

"It is my understanding that Greenpeace has launched a campaign to undermine your relationship with Mercury Paper Company," Bolling writes. "It is unfortunate that their reputation has been unfairly and inaccurately attacked."

Bolling is a frequent guest on radio talk shows, but his office has so far been unable to find the time to comment on why he thinks the charges against APP are unfair and who asked him to write letters.

When posed the same question, Mercury executive Phillip Rundle said Bolling isn’t the only politician helping out: "You’ve got the Governor, the Lieutenant governor. You’ve also got Congressman Goodlatte."

GOP support about jobs or campaign contributions?

Asked whether Mercury Paper has made campaign contributions to Republican lawmakers, Rundle said, "No, we have not."

The website campaignmoney.com, which allows users to search campaign finance records, clearly showed someone had written a check in March of last year.

During a follow-up interview at his Winchester office, Rundle was pressed on that point, and conceded: "I’m very sorry. I actually thought you were talking about Mercury Paper as a whole, but outside the company, yes, I, Philip Runcle have donated. I gave the maximum,which was $1,000."

Rundle says Republican lawmakers are stepping up to protect the 150 jobs the company provides, and in a recent letter urging Kroger’s CEO to resume business with Mercury, Gov. Bob McDonnell says the boycott undermines Virginia’s economic recovery. 

These efforts have also won support from the Tea Party. They praise McDonnell for standing up to the green elite and accuses Greenpeace of "intruding in our state with job-killing activism."

Mercury Paper: job killers or job creators?

A spokesman for the union, which represents paper, and wood workers in Virginia, says it’s actually Asia Pulp and Paper that’s killing jobs, because APP is not playing by the same environmental rules as North American companies: "It creates a competitive advantage that American workers can’t compete with. There’s been over 45,000 lost pulp and paper jobs here in the U.S., and I think it’s important to note that these jobs are often times in rural communities and are often times a major employer."

A story in the New York Times also suggests a connection between APP and the Tea Party. Investigative reporter Mike McIntire found certain political operatives link the two, and says the Institute for Liberty, headed by Maryland tea partier Andrew Langer, lobbied against tariffs on Asian paper.

McIntire found no evidence that APP had paid Langer: "Because the Institute for Liberty, like a lot of so-called social welfare organizations, is not required under the tax code to disclose who its donors are."

And he says Langer denied taking money from APP.

"But when I pressed him on whether or not it was possible that another entity that had accepted money from the company had given him money, he hedged on that and said it was possible," says McIntire.

Whatever the politics, APP continues to prosper in the rainforests of Indonesia, and Mercury Paper claims it’s tripled its sales in the last three years -- selling under Oasis Brand names: Paseo and Livi to supermarkets, schools, restaurants and hotels.  The World Wildlife Fund urges consumers to buy paper products that are 100 percent recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

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