The EPA Wimped Out on Cement Plants, but the Fight Continues in DFW Next Week

Just south of Dallas along Highway 67 in Midlothian is perhaps the country's largest concentration of cement plants. TXI, Holcim, and Ash Grove all operate facilities within a couple of miles of each other, and the emissions they pump into the air tend to waft over Dallas when the winds are right, as they are for most of the year.

Those emissions represent the single largest source of air pollution in North Texas and pose a significant risk to human health, and local environmental group Downwinders at Risk has spent more than two decades lobbying for stricter rules. That seemed close to happening three years ago when the Obama administration began drafting what would be the first industry-wide regulations governing cement plants. The EPA held a trio of public meeting nationwide, including one at DFW airport, where 200 people showed up to speak in support of limiting emissions. Rules to that effect were proposed in 2010. Then, nothing.

"At the very last minute, they pulled the rug out from everybody," says Downwinders director Jim Schermbeck.

The proposal just kind of disappeared, Schermbeck says, and has now been replaced with much looser regulations that, among other things, double the amount of particulate matter that can be released and limit monitoring to test burns every couple of years. (Note: The EPA says the PM levels haven't doubled and there will still be continuous monitoring. See below.) That seems contrary to the EPA's own determination that particulate matter "may result in tens of thousands of death per year, and many more cases of illness among the U.S. population. Also, the new proposal has the rules going into effect in 2015 instead of 2013, which could spell doom for any new rules if a Republican is elected president this fall.

That all has Schermbeck pretty pissed, as does the scant two weeks' notice the EPA gave for the only public hearing on the revised proposal in the country, which will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on August 16 at Arlington City Hall.

Schermbeck's going to be there, and he's going to bring a shredder to symbolize the fate of the 2010 rule. He encourages others to join him. They should bring comments, yes, but also medical bills, photos of deceased love ones, anything that can be shred as a symbol of opposition to looser restrictions on particulate matter. And no, you don't have to stay all 10 hours. It's a come-and-go type of thing.

Update at 1:02 p.m.: Here's some info from the EPA emailed me concerning the proposed regulations:

General: The proposed changes would continue to result in significant emission reductions from the 2010 standards while providing industry additional compliance flexibilities, including more time to implement the proposed updates by extending the compliance date for existing cement kilns from September 2013 to September 2015. The proposal would retain several key air toxics emissions limits in the 2010 rules, including limits for mercury, hydrochloric acid and total hydrocarbons.

About the PM limit:

Don't compare the PM emissions limits directly. Here's why: The PM emission limits and PM monitoring work together as a system to reduce PM emissions. EPA has proposed changes to both, which makes comparing the only emissions limits like comparing apples and oranges.

After the 2010 rule was issued, EPA received technical information that showed kilns potentially would not be able to meet the PM standards using the monitoring specifications in the 2010 rule. EPA is proposing to change the monitoring methods; the changes to the PM emissions limits that would be necessary with the monitoring change. These changes are not expected to have a significant impact on PM reductions from the 2010 rule. NOTE: While the monitoring methods would be different, kilns would still be required to continuously monitor PM emissions.

Why only one hearing:

The hearing is about proposed amendments to the 2010 rules; the previous hearings covered a broader scope of information. Under a draft settlement agreement, EPA must issue a final rule by Dec. 20, 2012. Unfortunately, that schedule limits the number of hearings we can hold on the proposed amendments. EPA will carefully consider all comments it receives -- and comments we receive in writing get just as thorough a review and consideration as those we receive at a public hearing.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson