Round Rock lawmaker wants EPA to halt regulations on cement kiln emissions

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 01, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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The battle against the Environmental Protection Agency isn't being waged just in Austin -- some Texas lawmakers in Washington are also taking aim at the federal agency by trying to limit what it can regulate.

For North Texas, one piece of legislation by Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, has drawn the ire of environmentalists for its attempt to stop the EPA from regulating what cement kilns emit. House Joint Resolution 9 would eliminate the EPA rule for regulating hazardous materials emitted by Portland cement plants.

The Portland process, the most widely used technique for producing cement, is the third-biggest source of mercury air pollution in the United States. Mercury is released when raw materials like clay, limestone and shale are heated in a kiln. Particle pollution has been linked to aggravated asthma, heart attacks and premature deaths, the EPA has said.

Midlothian, just southeast of Tarrant County, has 10 cement kilns. But Texas Industries, which has five of them, previously said it would permanently close its four older wet kilns, an older technology. They have been shuttered since 2008.

"If Carter's bill were to become law, it would allow mercury releases from the Midlothian kilns to remain uncontrolled, as well as stop the modernization of the last obsolete wet kilns at Ash Grove," said Jim Schermbeck, executive director of Downwinders at Risk, which has been fighting Midlothian cement plant emissions for more than two decades. He said he doesn't believe the resolution would pass in the Senate.

Ash Grove Cement Co., which has three cement kilns in Midlothian, has pledged to make changes to comply with tougher rules when they take effect in 2013.

Plant shutdowns

The cement industry says about 20 of the nation's 115 plants might have to close because of the rules.

What upsets local environmentalists is that Carter has suddenly taken an interest in cement kilns after years of not weighing in.

"It's certainly strange for someone who doesn't have a single cement plant in their district -- and never commented on emissions standards for cement plants in 13 years of litigation and public hearings -- to suddenly be concerned about these standards," Schermbeck said. "It's outrageous that he wants to overturn regulations supported by the vast majority of citizens, who, unlike him, bothered to comment on the standards when they were up for debate for those 13 years."

Carter's spokesman, John Stone, said the congressman would like to see the EPA rewrite the rule from scratch. Stone says the regulations will cost the U.S. jobs and make the cement industry less competitive with overseas plants.

Carter is targeting the rule through the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and overrule them by a joint resolution in Congress. It is expected to be heard this spring or summer, Stone said.

Possible job losses

Carter knew that he would draw criticism from environmental groups, Stone said.

In November on the House floor, Carter echoed the opinion of other Texas Republicans that the EPA is overstepping its authority.

"I would argue that EPA has expanded beyond anybody's imagination the things that they can do," Carter said.

While Carter says the regulations would cost jobs, the Federal Register says the impact is unclear.

Regulations could result in the loss of 1,500 jobs by one calculation, or it could result in 600 job losses to 1,300 job gains under another model.

Carter's legislation has also drawn the attention of national environmental organizations, which say he is distorting the facts.

"Rep. Carter's clean-air-killing resolution would take the lid off emissions of mercury and other toxic pollution from cement kilns, but do nothing to create jobs in our country," Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement last week.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

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