EPA to host hearing on new cement rules Thursday August 16 2012
By Julie Thibodeaux
Local environmental groups concerned about air quality are urging residents to attend a public hearing on Thursday, Aug. 16, regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposed rules for cement plants. The EPA hearing on the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for the Portland cement manufacturing industry will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Arlington City Hall at 101 W. Abram in Arlington. Environmentalists are scrambling to line up speakers after the hearing was announced with only two weeks notice.
Zac Trahan, director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment’s DFW office, said this is only public hearing on the rules in the country, which will affect not only North Texas but air quality nationwide. “We want to make sure [the rules] are as strong as possible, and we want to fight back efforts to weaken them,” said Trahan. The NESHAP rules for the cement manufacturing industry were finalized in 2010, following years of pressure from environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, to regulate the industry. “These are the first rules ever for cement plants,” said Jim Schermbeck, director of the DFW-based air quality watchdog group Downwinders at Risk. “That’s what makes them so important.”
However, the Portland Cement Association opposed the rules saying that the cost to comply with new regulations would force some plants to close and drive business overseas, where regulations are looser. Last month, the EPA issued proposed amendments in response to petitions for reconsideration filed by the Portland cement industry and a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
According to the EPA, the rules were modified to provide industry compliance flexibilities and more time to implement the proposed updates. Portland cement is the most common type of cement manufactured in the U.S. It involves grinding and heating a mixture of raw materials such as limestone, clay, sand and iron ore in a rotary kiln and mixing it with gypsum to produce cement. A variety of pollutants are emitted from the burning of fuels, which may include industrial scrap materials and tires, and heating of raw materials. Emissions also can occur from grinding, cooling and materials-handling steps in the manufacturing process.
Cement kilns are the third largest emitter of mercury in the U.S. There are 111 Portland cement facilities nationwide. Ten cement plants operate in Texas, with three in Midlothian, making up one of the largest point sources for pollution in the North Texas region.
According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, emissions have been significantly reduced at the Midlothian facilities in recent years. However, the new EPA regulations aim to cut toxic emissions further, including reducing mercury, particulate matter, hyrdochloric acid and hydrocarbons. Environmentalists considered the 2010 regulations to be a victory. However, Schermbeck says subsequent amendments have reduced their effectiveness. In the 2010 version, cement manufacturers were required to be in compliance by 2013. The new rules extend the deadline to 2015. He believes that delaying the compliance date two years would have a significant health impact. By the EPA’s own estimation, the new standards as outlined in 2010 could prevent between 960 and 2,500 cases of “premature mortality” a year. “This is the first step the EPA has made to make the industry meet clean air standards. Now they’re saying push them back two years,” said Schermbeck.
The 2012 version also allows for a higher particulate matter or PM standard based on annual manual stack monitoring, which critics say is less effective than continuous monitoring. According to the U.S. EPA, the change was made because technical information showed that current continuous emissions monitors may not be able to reliably measure the new low levels of PM concentration. In the amended rules, every year, kilns would conduct three stack tests measuring PM using a filter at the stack. The results of those tests would be used to determine a site-specific operating limit for each kiln. In addition, compliance would be demonstrated with continuous emissions monitoring.
Schermbeck said at the last hearing in 2009, environmentalists had a strong showing with as many as 200 people attending to support the landmark emissions regulations. He said this time it’s even more important for people to attend. Residents are encouraged to sign up to speak by contacting EPA coordinator Pam Garrett by emailing her at email@example.com or calling 919-541-7966. (Photo - Green Source DFW - Jim Schermbeck accepting 2012 Green Source DFW Environmental Leadership Award for Downwinders at Risk)
Trahan said a number of residents have already pledged to speak on Thursday, but they are hoping more will show up to broadcast to the EPA that the public is paying attention. “It takes five minutes to defend what it took 20 years to build,” said Schermbeck. “For those who think [speaking at the hearing] is an academic exercise, it’s not. It’s symbolic in ways that may help later.” To read the NESHAP proposals for the Portland cement manufacturing industry, see http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-07-18/pdf/2012-16166.pdf
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Julie Thibodeaux is a Fort Worth-based writer covering environmental issues, green topics and sustainable living. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org