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As Ash Grove, Dallas Settle Cement Suit, Clean-Air Group Shouts, "Sweetheart Deal!"

It's been close to two years since we last looked at Ash Grove's federal lawsuit, filed in the fall of '08, in which the cement-maker whined that Dallas's refusal to buy its dirty, wet-kiln-made concrete was a violation of the state's competitive bidding laws. Dallas, claiming its thanks-but-no-thanks was due to a cleaner-air, "green cement" initiative launched in '07, was but one of several municipalities and local entities that swore off Ash Grove's Midlothian-made cement. Also named were Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas County Schools, Tarrant County and Plano, which was dismissed from the initial litigation and named in a later complaint.

Well, Dallas City Hall just sent word: Dallas and Arlington -- the only two parties who kept fighting Ash Grove in federal court -- have negotiated a proposed settlement that will bring the litigation to a wrap. Says the release sent moments ago, the deal would require Ash Grove "to significantly reduce its release of harmful pollutants on all the cement it makes year-round in North Texas." Specifically, says the release:

The proposed settlement would:

(1)  Require Ash Grove to reduce its nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by *more than 10%* for *all* of the cement it manufactures in North Texas *year-round*. (Not just for the cement it makes for city projects and not just during ozone season);
(2)   Require *all* North Texas cement manufacturers to exceed state NOx emissions standards by a set percentage to be eligible for a preference on city projects;
(3)  Require all cement manufacturers to be in compliance with all state and federal pollution laws to be eligible for a preference on city projects.

Council Transportation and Environment Committee chair Linda Koop insists it's a good deal: "The proposed policies will do more to reduce pollution from the cement kilns than the current policy by requiring Ash Grove to lower their emissions rate for all cement produced in the region."

But Downwinders at Risk calls it a "stunning reversal" by the city in advance of a council vote scheduled for February 23 that will essentially end the litigation. Says director Jim Schermbeck, "This is a sweetheart deal for Ash Grove that comes at the expense of Dallas-Ft. Worth residents who want to breathe cleaner air. Whether they want to admit it or not, the cities are further enabling Ash Grove to continue to run the dirtiest cement operation in Texas."

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