Texas Industries to permanently close 4 cement kilns in Midlothian

A grassroots group is hailing Texas Industries' decision Tuesday to permanently close its four wet-process cement kilns at its Midlothian facility, depicted by environmentalists as the top air polluter in North Texas.

Tuesday's decision, effective immediately, came about a week after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rejected the state's plan for clean-air implementation, ruling that Texas' flexible permitting system violates parts of the U.S. Clean Air Act and effectively relaxes federally mandated emission requirements.

"TXI's hazardous-waste permit was the largest ever awarded a company in Texas, allowing over 200 million gallons of waste to be burned every year," said Jim Schermbeck, director of Downwinders at Risk, a Dallas-based grassroots group and fierce opponent of industrial air pollution in North Texas. "Its fight to win that permit was the most expensive and longest-running permit battle in Texas history."

The state's permitting system lets plants meet clean-air requirements based on a plantwide ceiling on emissions rather than for each source within the facility. Federal officials have said the approach allows Texas companies to operate under relaxed anti-pollution standards not permitted for industries in other states.

The company said in a statement that the closure will enable TXI, based in Dallas, to enhance production of cement and the efficiency of its dry-process kiln and allow innovative use of renewable fuels while also reducing emissions.

Company officials said their decision has nothing to do with the EPA's recent actions.

The four wet kilns have been idle since 2008 because of the recession, officials said.

"Achieving these improvements at our Midlothian facility is a key component of our strategy to have among the most modern and efficient production capacity in the U.S.," said Mel Brekhus, president and chief executive officer.

TXI, the largest producer of cement in Texas, said the decision will not affect the work force at the plant, which employs 170.

Schermbeck said: "TXI's decision is the culmination of a 20-year fight that citizens finally won. Persistence pays."

David Perkins, spokesman for TXI, told The Associated Press that the decision does not call for demolition of the four wet kilns.

Midlothian, a town of about 16,000 people 25 miles south of Dallas, has 10 kilns, which make cement by baking limestone and other materials at temperatures that reach 2,800 degrees.

ELIZABETH ZAVALA, 817-390-7418