Ash Grove Cement Corp. will shut down two polluting cement kilns in Midlothian next year when it finishes building a new-technology kiln at the site, part of a national settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.The EPA also announced Wednesday that Ash Grove, based in Overland Park, Kan., agreed to pay a $2.5 million penalty and invest about $30 million in pollution control technology at its nine portland cement plants around the country. The settlement resolves alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, the EPA and the Justice Department said.Ash Groves facility in Midlothian, an Ellis County city about 30 miles southeast of Fort Worth, was the largest emitter of nitrogen oxide, or NOx, in North Texas as of 2011, according to data at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. NOx is a precursor to ozone, or smog, and 10 counties in the region are out of compliance with EPA limits on ozone.Two other cement facilities in Ellis County, owned by Dallas-based Texas Industries and Swiss-owned Holcim US, were the No. 2 and No. 4 emitters of NOx in North Texas. Devon Energys Bridgeport natural gas processing plant was No. 3.Last year, Ash Grove announced that it would spend about $150 million at its Midlothian facility to build the new kiln and make other improvements. That kiln uses a dry process to produce portland cement, a principal ingredient in concrete.When that kiln opens in about a year, it will produce roughly as much as the facility makes now but with 60 percent less NOx, company spokeswoman Jackie Clark said. It will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 97 percent and particulate-matter emissions by 90 percent. It will also use less water, she said.The agreement with EPA will allow Ash Grove to move forward and provide an environmentally sustainable product that is the foundation of our economy, CEO Charles Sunderland said in a release. The company said that the agreement will take effect after public comment and court approval, likely in July, but that compliance at individual plants will vary.Jim Schermbeck, director of the environmental group Downwinders at Risk, welcomed the action but said he would have preferred more. The group has fought to lower emissions from the cement plants for two decades.While its heartening to see EPA enforce the law, its disappointing they missed an opportunity to require the kilns to install additional pollution control equipment that could have cut NOx emissions by 90 percent, Schermbeck said. We need that technology in Dallas-Fort Worth. We have the largest concentration of cement plants in the country located upwind of a major urban area, he said.About 120 people work at Ash Groves Midlothian facility, Clark said. She said building the new kiln will extend the life of the facility and help retain those jobs.U.S. cement producers faced a September deadline to meet EPA emission standards. However, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granted Ash Grove an one-year extension.Ash Grove will also spend $750,000 to mitigate the effects of past excess emissions from several of its facilities, including the Midlothian plants, the EPA said.
Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Twitter: @jimfuquay