TXI Won't Burn Tires in Midlothian. For Now.

In the wake of a busy summer for environmental activists, Dallas-based TXI has chosen to withdraw its application for a permit to burn tires and tire shreds in one of the kilns at its Midlothian cement plant. Why they did so isn't clear -- though if it was in response to public pressure, one might not have expected the permit to go down so quietly.

Downwinders at Risk field organizer Jim Schermbeck says Midlothian resident Debbie Markwardt, who lives across the highway from the TXI plant, stumbled across the withdrawal by accident. As far as the Downwinders knew, the permit was on line for approval by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) by the end of June. But according to TCEQ spokesperson Andrea Morrow, that wasn't exactly the case.

She tells Unfair Park that TCEQ had some outstanding concerns about the permit -- most notably, they needed an analysis of its potential effects on regional air quality. Says Morrow, TXI "withdrew because they needed additional time to address the PSD applicability."

PSD -- which stands for the prevention of significant deterioration -- is a federal measure of how new or existing sources of pollutants will affect a region's air quality.

According to Morrow, the TXI plant would have to prove that burning tires would not release pollutants in excess of federal limits, yielding a "significant deterioration" in regional air quality. If TXI can't prove that burning tires won't harm air quality, then it can't stick with the type of low-maintenance, standard modification to an air quality permit for which the company had originally applied.

Instead, Morrow explains, TXI would have to get what's called a "major modification" permit or a new permit altogether -- and, Morrow says, "that's a much longer process, because it involves a lot more testing and public notice and that kind of thing."

Ah, but this isn't the end of the story. Not by a long shot.

"They plan to resubmit at a later date," Morrow says. "If they resubmit within six months there's no additional fee."

So as long as TXI can somehow convince TCEQ by next January that burning tires won't make for a "significant deterioration" in Dallas-Fort Worth air quality, then for $900 they can skip the whole public comment thing and burn those tires.

Burning tires may not necessarily be as bad as it sounds -- the EPA "recognizes that the use of tire-derived fuels is a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels" -- but for now, that assessment is up to the TCEQ. Still, things could change.

Schermbeck recalls a June 12 meeting with EPA chief Lisa Jackson, who heard the complaints of several groups hoping to take the entire permitting process out of the TCEQ's hands and deliver it into the EPA's. Jackson has also promised to name a new administrator for EPA Region 6 (Texas and surrounding states) by the end of next month.

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Alexa Schirtzinger