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

Categories: The Environment

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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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25 comments
rufuslevin
rufuslevin

lets just do away with cement altogether then, and use mud huts in North Dallas, and pave the streets with wooden blocks....hey, more shovels, more jobs....less permanence, more future replacements.

 

NO MORE CEMENT....LET THE SNAIL DARTERS AND SNOWY OWLS RISE UP AND PROTEST POLUTION....HUG A BUSH..SHRUB I MEAN....KISS A FROG....LOVE JESUS AND TALK WITH YOUR CHILDREN EVERY NIGHT...SUPPORT YOUR SCHOOLS.

cementuser
cementuser

The unintended consequence of the discrimination against Midlothian cement companies is higher costs to taxpayers with no corresponding benefits.  The emissions are not toxic despite the hysteria of the downwinders.  If they were to burn hazardous wastes it would be burnt more completely and at higher temperature than in a hazardous waste incinerator.

 

Most people do not realize our air and water quality is better now than it was 30 years ago despite our increased population.  These ridiculously expensive incremental “green” measures only increase costs and remove incentives to upgrade aging plants based on sound business principles.  If there is no relief from these requirements then I hope everyone enjoys their imported cements from countries that have no environmental controls.  The planet suffers but who cares as long as the downwinders get to make their political point?

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Eric, don't know if you're hip to the hazardous waste they get to burn there?  You should inquire on that, as I've long forgotten the details, but like a rusty old trap, I'm certain it happens--don't know the frequency, terms and the like.

 

This goes to show that the EPA WILL crack down on us peons, but big industry gets a pass, GOP or DEMs, them's all the same.

darrd2010
darrd2010

Go down to Midlothian, Cedar Hill, and Duncanville and ask anyone about the asthma and upper respiratory issues that exists there.

Man_in_Mansfield
Man_in_Mansfield

"Those emissions represent the single largest source of air pollution in North Texas ..." That's not remotely true.   Far and away the largest source is motor vehicles - the cars & trucks we drive every day.  Until we recognize that truth we won't make significant progress to clean up our air.  The cement plants aren't even the largest industrial source any more; according to Dr. Al Amendariz pollution from natural gas drilling in the DFW airshed far exceeds any other industrial sources.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @cementuser MORE POLUTION FROM LEAF BLOWERS GOING FULL TILT IN NORTH DALLAS LAWN MANAGEMENT.....

claytonauger
claytonauger

 @cementuser Gee, I guess you haven't been keeping track of violating air monitors in DFW have you? Last year DFW smog was worse than Houston's  and it was the worse the region had seen since 2005. The pattern is repeating itself this year. Emissions from the cement plants includes fun-loving non-toxic ingredients like particulate matter ("no safe level of exposure" according to authorities), dioxin ("no safe level of exposure," according to authorities)  and lead ("no safe level of exposure", according to authorities.), along with benzene, cadmium, and a host of of other things you could have for dinner every night.  Meanwhile, the actual manufacturing capacity for cement in Midlothian has increased, not decreased. Ash Grove just got through announcing it was investing in a more modern plant in Midlothian, not moving to China, despite these new oppressive EPA rules. If you're going to cheerlead, at least use the facts.

claytonauger
claytonauger

 @scottindallas TXI quit burning wastes officially classified as "hazardous" in 2010. However all three plants have permits to burn "non-hazardous" wastes such as tires, and TXI got one last year to allow it to burn plastic garbage, and car interiors (without a public hearing or notice). When burned, non-hazardous this waste often produces the very same kinds of toxic air pollution as hazardous wastes.

 

claytonauger
claytonauger

 @Man_in_Mansfield "...single largest source" as in single point sources. These cement plants are far and away the largest industrial sources of air pollution in DFW. It's not even close. And as far as cars, the state now says that oil and gas industry pollution spews more smog-forming Volatile Organic Compounds than all the cars and trucks on roads in North Texas. But whereas cars and gas sources are spread out over the whole region, the concentrated plums from these cement plants are like fire hoses of pollution and can drastically change smog and PM levels depending on which way the wind is blowing them. If you live in Mansfield, you're breathing a lot of cement plant pollution most of the year.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @claytonauger WELL, HUGE HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION JOBS LIKE NORTH LBJ ARE FILLING THE AIR TOTALLY WITH DUST AND PARTICULATES....AND THEN THEY NEED THE CEMENT TO SEAL ALL THAT BACK IN WHEN THE ROADS ARE FINISHED.

 

ALL PART OF THE URBAN CYCLE OF LIFE BUD.

 

 

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @claytonauger UH....THE INCINERATION PROCESS INCLUDES MASSIVE SCRUBBERS OF STACKS, AND MONITORING THE EMISSIONS....YOU MUST NOT HAVE BEEN KEEPING UP SINCE THE 1980S.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @claytonauger I emailed Ed W. on this, he pointed out that 15 years ago DFW was the largest polluter.  There are many sources, industrial sources get light treatment while cars get intense scrutiny. 

Man_in_Mansfield
Man_in_Mansfield

 @claytonauger

If the author meant "largest single point industrial source" then he should have written that.   I read what he wrote, and it's wrong.   So is your assertion that the "firehose" from an industrial stack is more important than a million garden hoses from the tailpipes of our cars.  By weight or volume the pollution from cars far exceeds what those cement plant produce.  Down here in Mansfield my lungs suffer more from traffic on US-287 and the gas well fracking a couple blocks away than from anything coming out of Midlothian.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @rufuslevin actually they used grandfather clauses to avoid those upgrades in the case of big brown.  You must not read the articles you post to.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @scottindallas LOOK SCOTT...NO ONE CHUCKS HAZARDOUS WASTE INTO A BACKYARD BBQ GRILL ANYMORE...THESE SITES ARE PERMITED, MONITORED, INSPECTED AND CONTROLLED....YOU BLATHER HAS GONE JUST TOO FAR...YOU ARE OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY.

claytonauger
claytonauger

 @Man_in_Mansfield The air is certainly less toxic because of the last ten years of citizen pressure on the kilns. But the cement plants do not have "advanced emissions controls." They have stuff left over from the 90's. You could cut their smog-forming emissions by 90% - instead of just 40% -  with a technology called SCR that's already out there, and being used in Europe, and you'd see additional progress downwind - especially in Tarrant County. The problem of dirty air in DFW is complicated, but look at where the smog monitors were a problem before the cuts in cement plant emissions and afterwards. Before, the problem was worse in NW Tarrant County - exactly the corner of the Metromess where the cement plumes and other pollution gets blown. For the last two years, the problems has moved east - along with gas drilling. It could be that the cutting cement plant pollution does have a positive impact on air pollution in DFW but that the state's refusal to regulate gas mining emissions is canceling out that progress. If so, that's no reason to give up on further cement plant cuts that could be the equivalent of taking 200-300,000 cars off the road. It's an argument to address all industrial sources with equal vigor.

Man_in_Mansfield
Man_in_Mansfield

 @claytonauger

You've hit right on key to my frustration.  I've been following this for 20 years and the argument from politicians and environmentalists has always been that the cement plants are "low hanging fruit" and we need to hit them before going after things that the voters won't be happy with.   The last of the old wet kilns in Midlothian are being shut down, nobody is burning hazardous waste anymore, all the plants are required to have advanced emissions controls ... and yet the air in DFW is dirtier than ever?  I'm not saying we shouldn't regulate the cement plants; I'm saying that battle has been won and we need to wake up and see the results - the air isn't clean.   The cement plants are not and never were the root of the problem.   Your statement about % effectiveness of pollution controls misses the point - it's the total tonnage of pollutants going into the air that matters, and you are arguing to continue to pick the small fruit because that's the easiest thing to do.  I believe all the posters here have their hearts in the right place, but we need to open our eyes and see that we are not achieving results.

claytonauger
claytonauger

Absolutely, but Scott is right. Cars are eliminating/controlling  90% plus of the air pollution they produce, whereas the cement industry is lucky to get 40% or so and there are still no smog controls on a lot of gas facilities. If your goal is clean air, then you want to pick the lowest hanging fruit first, and it's a lot more cost effective to bring another 50% of controls to the centrally-located cement plants than trying to eek out another 5% with disbursed cars.     @Man_in_Mansfield 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @Man_in_Mansfield dude, are you aware they burn hazardous waste in that TXI plant?  Like you can discern what gives your lungs stress like some wine sommalier. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @Man_in_Mansfield you're mistaken, Big Brown and the Cement plant are a greater source of pollution than all the cars in the metroplex.   If you doubt me, call Ed Wallace Saturday morning 8-1pm on 570 KLIF.  Cars are incredibly clean.  We have vast emissions controls and our cars are checked annually, clearly you missed that neither Big Brown or this plant are compliant, nor are they checked and threatened with being shut down on an annual basis if they fail. 

Man_in_Mansfield
Man_in_Mansfield

My hope is that our objective is clean air.  To achieve that we need to address the real source of the problem rather than being distracted by whose hose is bigger.   Seems to me that we often excuse our individual actions by pointing fingers at industry, all the while enjoying the benefits of what they produce (like driving our cars on highways built from cement).  Just feels like hypocrisy to me, pretending that we are doing some sort of good by placing the blame elsewhere. 

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