Downwinders at Risk believes that environmental protection is a Do-It-Yourself proposition, and that effective community organizing is the key to providing it.
By working together with our neighbors who are also being harmed by toxic air pollution, we stand a better chance of making the air cleaner, and increasing citizen influence in making decisions that affect the air we breathe.
We focus exclusively on North Texas clean air issues. Our entire board is from the DFW area. We work from the bottom up, with local priorities driving our program work. Through effective organizing on local issues, we win national precedents.
Who is Downwinders at Risk?
Board Members and Staff
Cherelle Blazer is a Yale-trained chemist and African-American civil rights activist from Dallas.
Tamera Bounds is leader of Mansfield Gaswell Awareness, a citizens group fighting urban fracking in this DFW suburb.
Ranjana Bhandar – founder of Liveable Arlington, a citizens group fighting urban fracking in Arlington, the region’s third largest city.
Becky Bornhorst was a key children’s environmental health advocate in the Texas PTA during the 1990’s.
Sandra Breakfield is a Dallas area accountant and Downwinders’ treasurer. She’s been with the group since its founding in 1994.
Equilla Harper is a member of Frisco Unleaded and was active in the fight to close the Exide lead smelter in Frisco.
Carolyn Ross is an Ovilla clean air activist and organic gardener.
Caryl Sherman-Gonzalez is a Fort Worth public health advocate.
Jim Schermbeck is a long-time environmental community organizer in DFW. He opened the Dallas office of the National Toxics Campaign in 1989, and then moved to Downwinders in1994, where he’s remained ever since.
Downwinders at Risk Chronology and Milestones
Federal law allows the burning of hazardous and toxic wastes in industrial boilers and furnaces by calling it recycling. Cement plant operators and other facilities never designed to burn these wastes begin to charge polluters for being a hazardous waste disposal site. Because many of these facilities are decades old and have no environmental regulations governing hazardous waste emissions, they charge significantly less than single-purpose hazardous waste incinerators and hazardous waste landfills for the same job.
Thus, the economic incentive is established for Gulf Coast refineries and chemical plants to by-pass the official haz-waste disposal site down the block from them in favor of shipping it to Midlothian to be burned in circa-1960 cement kilns. Even with the additional transportation costs, its still much cheaper to burn waste in the kilns with nothing like the controls required of the incinerators. And incinerators themselves are notoriously dirty operations.
The operators of a West Dallas cement plant propose burning hazardous waste as a for-profit fuel. Since the community is still reeling from the first wave of disclosures of lead poisoning from the RSR smelter, this proposal is met with intense opposition. Congressman Martin Frost, who represents the area, attaches a precisely worded rider to a Solid Waste Act amendment as it passes through the House of Representatives. The Frost Amendment bans the burning of hazardous waste in cement plants in cities of 500,000 or more population. Only the West Dallas cement plant and a small kiln in Detroit are impacted. The West Dallas kiln almost a century old already closes not long afterwards.
Gifford Hill Cement (now Ash Grove) begins directly pumping hazardous wastes from tanker trucks into its three wet kiln process cement kilns in Midlothian, (population approximately 2500) 20 miles south of Dallas. It becomes the first cement plant in Texas to do double duty as a hazardous waste incinerator. Because the waste is being pumped from trucks, no federal permit is required. Air emissions from haz waste-burning kilns are not federally regulated only storage units. If asked, the plants spokesmen say theyre recycling flammable material.
One of the few notes of opposition to Gifford-Hills plans at the time appears in an articulately written Letter to the Editor in the Midlothian Mirror from a local resident. It cites the fact that the kiln cant make metals like lead and cadmium disappear, and in fact it can concentrate them they go up the stack, into the cement itself, or into the Cement Kiln Dust residue. The letter is signed by the wife of TXIs plant manager.
TXI begins burning hazardous waste for profit in its four wet kilns, but again, because the waste is being off-loaded directly from trucks, no federal RCRA permit is required, and no public notice is necessary or given. And again, its officially referred to as recycling.
A third cement plant, Box-Crow opens with one dry kiln in Midlothian the city's first. Midlothian becomes the only place in the US to host three different cement plants and 8 kilns.
May Jim Schermbeck gets hired by Texans United, a relatively new group that acts as a state alliance of fence line community groups organized around their local toxic industrial exposures. Unlike every other statewide group, its headquartered in Houston, not Austin. It provides full-time staff to different regions of the state € the coast, W. Texas, and DFW specifically to act as full-time organizers on behalf of these groups. It was and remains the only group ever organized for this purpose and hits its stride at what is probably the apex of such facilities and fights in the U.S.
Schermbeck begins by working with local citizens groups opposing a hazardous waste incinerator in the middle of residential Oak Cliff, what will become a State Superfund site in residential Crowley, and a new fight to clean-up the toxic remnants of RSR in West Dallas where used batteries were broken apart and officially recycled into raw lead again.
Fall – TXI and Gifford Hill both apply for permits to store and blend hazardous waste on-site at their Midlothian cement plants. This finally does trigger a federal RCRA requirement for a hazardous waste permit and public notice in a paper of record in the host county. The companies choose the Midlothian paper to publish the notice a mistake they would never repeat. From then on, public notices for regulatory action by the plants always occurred inside newspapers published outside the Midlothian city limits
When the notices were published, it was clear that Midlothian was becoming the haz waste burning capitol of Texas. TXIs permit request was for over 200,000 million tons a year of waste alone the largest haz waste permit of record anyone could find in the country. Both companies never stopped burning waste even as they pursued the official permits that would allow them to burn waste because they were grandfathered in.
Citizens Aware and United for a Safe Environment (CAUSE) – a completely Midlothian-based group of citizens, including a former city councilman and his wife – begins meeting.
Dec – Schermbeck attends his first public meeting in Midlothian, hosted by the cement plants to explain to outraged citizens why the recycling theyve been performing for three years now requires a federal hazardous waste permit. He hears that living downwind of haz-waste burning cement plants is no riskier than eating a PB&J every day. When one of the plant spokesmen responds to a question about the amount of dust in the air and says that there shouldnt be any problem with dust in peoples homes or on cars, the entire auditorium erupts in laughter.
CAUSE organizes a series rallies, petitions, and actions including a rally outside TXI with then-Ag Commissioner Jim Hightower and a Tent City for a week outside the Austin HQ of the Texas Water Commission (a predecessor of TCEQ) that also sees protests outside the Gov. Mansion with Ann Richards inside. But ultimately, the fact that Midlothian is still a company town, where the cement plants provide 60% plus of the tax base, overwhelms this local effort. As long as the fight is only about Midlothian, citizens will never will.
First federal air emissions regulations proposed for haz waste-burning cement kilns. They are neither very strict nor comprehensive. First bill concerning cement plant incineration of haz waste is filed in the state legislature by Rep. Keith Oakley (D). It never even gets a hearing and goes nowhere.
Special task force on cement kiln incineration of wastes is headed-up by Ann Richards newly-chosen Texas Air Control Board Chair, Kirk Watson of Austin. The Task Force recommends that cement kilns be held to the same standards as haz waste incinerators. Before the TACB can implement this recommendation, the TACB and Texas Water Commission are merged into one giant agency, and the more industry-friendly John Hall, not Kirk Watson, is picked by Richards to run it.
Sue Pope, Jim Schermbeck (both of whom have been involved with CAUSE), and the wife of a Supercollider engineer that had recently moved to Ellis County began meeting as Downwinders at Risk. They host informational meetings at local libraries in Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Dallas, Arlington and Mansfield. The purpose at this stage is solely on stopping the burning of hazardous waste at TXI and Gifford-Hill (which becomes North Texas Cement which then become Ash Grove). The point of the group is to take the fight to people who are affected by the cement plants pollution but are not tied to the plants economically. Take the fight outside where your opponent is strongest and find battlefields that are more advantageous.
In the first 4-6 months, attendance at these informational meetings ranges from 1 to 10/15 people at a time. But they lead to larger and more frequent meetings in front of other groups, churches, PTAs and such. Those that show up are told the group is assembling a board and needs volunteer board members. This is basically how we recruit the first wave of core activists, five of which are still with the group as board members or staff.
Downwinders assists the American Lung Association in producing a short film on cement plant incineration that interviews residents and doctors in and around Midlothian. When it premiers in Austin, the head the Texas Natural Resource and Conservation Commission ("Train Wreck" yet another predecessor to TCEQ) says the state will respond with new regs for the kilns. Those new regs are two weeks away from being passed by the Ann Richards dominated TNRCC when the Chemical Council funds a full court press and lobbies it to death. It's the closest opponents will ever get to state regulation of haz waste burning kilns.
Ann Richards loses to George Bush for the Governorship.
Holnam, now Holcim, a Swiss-based cement multinational, purchases Box-Crow Cement.
Texans United loses its funding and dissolves. Schermbeck decides to continue working on the Midlothian cement plant fight and offers to become the organizer for Downwinders for what they can pay him as a local non-affiliated all volunteer group.
Because our board hosts a sizable number of PTA moms, they decide to take the issue of hazardous waste and tire burning in cement kilns to the state PTA convention in the form of a resolution condemning both. TXI fights them every step of the way, hiring a PR firm, renting a booth at the convention and using Big Bird from Sesame Street to lobby aganst the moms. The moms win and the resolution passes. Downwinders has the PTAs endorsement.
North Texas Cement decides to quit burning hazardous waste and start burning tires, a less regulated source of waste fuel. Downwinders focuses on fighting the permit TXI needs to keep burning waste.
Downwinders board members, including the PTA moms, confront Gov. George W. Bushs appointed chair to the state environmental agency, Buck Wynne, about why the kilns are not being included in DFW smog clean-up plans. Theyre the largest industrial sources of smog-forming pollution in the North Texas area, but air planning professionals and elected officials arent even recognizing pollution sources south of the Dallas County line, not even ones just a few miles south of it. Its the first time anyone has ever suggested that the kilns need to reduce their emissions for DFW to have better air quality. Unfortunately, nobody listens to the moms.
1-hour 125 ppb ozone standard is replaced by 8-hour 85ppb ozone standard. DFW wont have to meet it until 2010.
First peer-reviewed and journal published comparative health study of Midlothian residents. Downwinders contracted with the late Dr. Marvin Legator of UTMB in Galveston, a world-famous toxicologist to do a small study that looks at acute symptoms only. The study finds a 30% increase in respiratory problems among those living close to the kilns versus a control group in Waxahachie.
First peer-reviewed and journal published critique of the states use of ESL, Effects Screening Levels which reveals that these safe levels for chemical exposure are often arbitrary and not based on any objective science at all, instead depending on corporate studies and memos from the manufacturers and users. Published as a Downwinders report called Sacrificing Science for Convenience.
TXI permit fight. Its hard to know how to describe this to anyone who wasn't there. It remains the longest and most expensive permit fight in Texas history.
Downwinders strategy was to recruit downwind cities to pledge small chunks of money to the permit fight to help pay for attorneys and expert witnesses to give us a chance. We used the Texas Clean Water canvass operation in DFW to go door-to-door in all the surrounding communities to generate letters to the local city councils. We won votes in DeSoto and Duncanville, but lost in Cedar Hill and Arlington. (During the course of the campaign, Arlington hires a consultant for $5000 to determine whether emissions from TXI can affect Arlington air quality. Even though you can see the stacks of all three cement plants from the lanes of I-20 in South Arlington, the consultant concludes that TXI pollution cannot affect Arlington air quality. Mayor Richard Greene presides over a council that decides not to join the permit fight.)
The group does just about everything a non-profit group can do to raise money to both keep Schermbeck as an organizer and pay for the permit fight. Garage sales. Concession stands of all kinds at all kinds of events. BBQ stands. Cotton Candy stands. Wine tastings. Grant proposals. The Downwinders board meets twice a week. Members put their lives on hold for five years hoping their sacrifice is worth it.
For the first time in its history, TXI hires an outside PR flak to mount an all out attack campaign against citizens. Downwinders board members are called hysterical housewives and alarmist environmentalists. Full-page ads in local newspapers announce that TXIs haz waste burning is safe and clean. TV stations endorse TXI as a good neighbor. Political contributions to local and state officials from all the cement plants go way up.
The hearing itself is long and convoluted. Members believe that they dont have to deny TXI a permit to jeopardize its haz waste burning business. If the group can force TXI to add scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide and other sulfur compounds that have been the source for health and nuisance complaints for years, then haz-waste burning will produce a scrubber waste that is itself a haz waste and costly to dispose of off-site. If only they can win this single concession.
When the decision comes in early 1999, its a total victory for TXI. It gets its haz waste permit and only has to make some adjustments in oxygen levels to address the sulfur issues.
Just as TXIs haz waste permit is in the process of being awarded, the regulatory machinery is gearing up to write a new smog plan for North Texas to meet the 1-hour/125 ppb ozone standard. This provides the group with what was its most pivotal turning point to date.
Instead of falling apart after the TXI permit decision, Downwinders became a leader in the fight for clean air for the entire region. The battleground changed, from a debate over toxic exposures to one about smog; from plumes that would harm those in close proximity to the kilns, to pollution that affected air quality a county or two away; from stuff in the air people couldnt see, to the brown gunk on the horizon you couldn't avoid seeing; from representing those downwind of the cement plants to speaking up on behalf of people downwind from the kilns, and everything else.
Up to this point, Downwinders had been very much in the mold of most grassroots groups who are formed to fight a specific facility or permit. Having given a Hercularian effort toward that goal, it would have been unsurprising to see the group disband.
But its decision to get involved in the process that produced a regional clean air plan changed the groups focus, its strategy and the way it saw itself. The goal of eliminating hazardous waste burning was still supreme, only the path that lead there was less direct. The group got the wind knocked out of it, got back up and immediately jumps into the new fight.
There are no environmentalists are on the local North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee in 1999, only elected officials and business representatives.
Downwinders members begin to attend their meetings and demand cement plants be considered for pollution cuts. Since there are no citizen representatives on the body to represent their interests, the group did this by interrupting presentations, researching and distributing its own information, and asking embarrassing questions from the audience. Specifically, members lobby for two technologies; Selective NON-Catalytic Reduction (SNCR) that can get an average of 30-40% cuts, and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) that can get 80 to 90% plus. SCR is state-of-the-art.
Officials argue that area ozone is all from cars and that the cement plants are not that big of a problem. The state hires a consultant who says that SNCR is an untried and expensive technology for cement kilns without first finding out that its being used on dozens of cement plants in Europe. The final plan calls for a voluntary 30% reduction in emissions from Midlothian cement kilns, a decrease that never happens. Eventually, this plan fails to meet its deadline, and Downwinders and three statewide and national groups end up suing EPA The state and local county governments are also drawn into the settlement talks.
Holcim announces plans top build a new cement kiln in Midlothian and refurbish the current one. It says it can produce 50% more cement while cutting emissions by 50%. Skeptical, Downwinders founder Sue Pope tracks the permit while the group is consumed with the TXI permit fight and asks for a hearing. Its denied.
However, because of the amount of Sulfur Dioxide already being released by all the other cement kilns in Midlothian, regulators model Holcims permit numbers and discover the town will be in non-attainment for SOx unless Holcim is required to have scrubbers to remove approximately 80% plus of the pollutant. It becomes the first cement plant to have this pollution control technology despite its use in the power plant industry for years.
In the middle of trying to win the haz waste permit for its four wet kilns, TXI announces it will build a new dry kiln, Kiln #5, in Midlothian. It will have scrubbers, and other control technologies the TXI wet kilns dont have. But instead of retiring all four wet kilns, TXI will still be able to burn waste in two of them at a time. It is, however, the beginning of the decline of the wet kilns in Midlothian.
A bill is introduced in the state legislature by State Senator Chris Harris to require the same emissions standards for haz waste-burning cement kilns as haz waste incinerators. It gets a hearing, but doesnt get out of committee.
Holcims new kiln and refurbished older kiln come on line. Instead of cutting their emissions by 50%, the plant is exceeding its permit for NOx/smog-forming emissions by 50%. After a lot of attempts to bring the emissions down, Holcim realizes its going to have to ask for a permit amendment to account for the new pollution. This sets off a flurry of regulatory reaction because Sue Popes request for a hearing has given her party status in the proceedings. Holcim wants to negotiate a settlement. Downwinders turns them down at first. EPA then steps in to offer to mediate. Downwinders accepts.
TXI Kiln #5 begins operation. It does not experience the flux of Holcim's debut.
TXI decides it wants to turn off one of the most important pieces of pollution technology on its new kiln #5, the Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer, a second flame that removes a lot of fumes that otherwise would go up the stack. Downwinders beats back that attempt. The RTO stays on.
Downwinders leads a campaign to appoint environmental group representatives to the local clean air steering committee in anticipation of a new round of air quality planning.
There is a fight over a new cement plant in Hudson, NY. Citizens hire engineering firm to do an analysis of what pollution control technology should be required on the new plant. The engineers come back with a report of the first successful SCR operation at a cement plant in Germany. When Downwinders receives a copy of their report, it becomes the basis for demands in the next round of DFW air quality planning.
Downwinders successfully campaigns to bring Ellis County into the DFW non-attainment area for the next round of air quality planning. On one side is the group, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Richard Greene, now EPA Regional Administrator under George W. Bush. On the other are Congressman Joe Barton and Governor Rick Perry, who are working overtime to make sure Ellis County and the cement plants are not included. Its during this fight that the Dallas Morning News gives Barton the moniker of Smokey Joe. When the announcement is made at EPAS regional HQ in Dallas, Schermbeck and Greene see each other for the first time since the Arlington city council vote to sit out the TXI permit fight. The first words out of Greenes mouth are We were wrong. He remains the only official from the municipalities that voted not to participate in the permit fight to admit they misjudged the risk of TXIs haz waste burning.
The lawsuit against EPA over late 2000 SIP is won. The settlement process brings local officials and Downwinders leadership closer together. A consensus is being formed about getting serious cuts in smog-forming pollution from the cement plants.
Perhaps the most effective and important provision in the settlement is the agreement by the State of Texas to sponsor an objective study on how to cut smog-forming emissions, or NOx, from the Midlothian cement plants. Five experts were picked by Downwinders, the cement companies, and the TCEQ to write the study. These experts were to look at every possible technology to reduce NOx pollution from cement plants and rank them in terms of technical and economic feasibility. Their report came out in January 2006 and validated both SNCR and SCR as technically feasible and economically reasonable for kilns. TCEQ quickly buried the results, but Downwinders distributes it to regulators and local groups all over the country.
The Holcim settlement with Downwinders is announced. Holcim agrees to a monitor by Sue Popes house, to pay for a scientist/engineer who will monitor the plants operations and test burns for citizens, and $2.3 million in grants to clean air projects in the DFW area. Its the largest private fund for clean air ever created in Texas, and the only such fund to be run by citizens themselves. Downwinders names it the Sue Pope Fund after its founder and the person who was most skeptical of Holcims initial claims.
The first Sue Pope Fund grant is to the Dallas County pilot program for catching counterfeit inspections stickers and smoking clunkers. Other grants have gone to Habitat for Humanity for increased energy efficiency in their homes, photovoltaic solar panels for a neighborhood in South Dallas, air-conditioning for the McKinney Avenue Trolley system, subsidizing the only mass transit Arlington has ever had, Ft. Worth ISD service vehicles, and the first hybrid school bus in North Texas.
As part of the settlement, Downwinders also gets Holcim to agree to pilot test SNCR technology on its kilns to reduce its NOx emissions, and if the test is successful, Holcim must install it permanently.
Up to this point both the Texas cement industry and TCEQ were on the record as saying SNCR would never work in Midlothian because of the uniqueness of the rock chemistry. Holcim's pilot test proved it did work and Holcim became the first cement plant in the US to retrofit a full-scale SNCR at its plant.
Another round of air quality planning begins, this time with representatives from environmental groups at the table as official members of the local clean air steering committee. Downwinders agrees to be represented by its sister group, the Blue Skies Alliance. By the end of the process, Schermbeck is occupying the slot anyway.
As a result of the work done since 1999-2000, its easier getting local officials to agree on recommendations. SNCR on all kilns; pilot testing of SCR and if successful, installation. And the first endorsement of a green cement procurement policy.
Computer modeling runs specifically requested by the local clean air steering committee demonstrate what a profound impact the kilns can have on DFW air quality, particularly Tarrant County, where no other single measure lowered ozone levels the way adding SCR to the cement kilns did. Plume maps showing the large and epic sweep of pollution from the Midlothian kilns make it clear that their closely placed smoke stacks combine to have a disproportionate impact on ozone monitors downwind.
Despite the local recommendations, TCEQ ignores SCR and works with the cement plants to reach a deal that will only require putting SNCR on the wet kilns at Ash Grove and TXI. By 2009, Ash Grove is the only US wet kiln to operate with SNCR. TXI is less successful in trying to adapt the technology to its waste-burning kilns. The state creates one strict smog emission standard for the newer dry kilns and another looser standard that is twice as permissive for the wet kilns.
Downwinders interviews candidates for the Holcim settlement scientist/engineer position. They select Dr. Al Armendariz, an environmental engineer at SMU to be their chosen expert, who has never been involved in environmental politics or cement plants before.
Downwinders sponsors the Rick Perry Smokestack Love Tour in October. Commissioning a giant foam and wood sculpture of Rick Perry kissing a smokestack that sits on a 16 foot hay trailer, the piece of political art tours through the coal plant belt in Central and East Texas, as well as North Texas.
Downwinders Campaign for Green Cement begins in earnest. Its a new strategy that tries to divide and conquer the monolithic Midlothian cement industry by targeting the dirtiest, most obsolete kilns for replacement or retrofitting. On May 27th Dallas becomes the first city in the country to pass a green cement policy stating it would only buy cement from dry kilns. Ft. Worth follows in October and Arlington is the third city to pass such a policy by the end of the year. Ron Wright, Joe Bartons Chief of Staff in Texas and an Arlington city council member, votes in favor.
Legislation is filed in Austin by then State Senator Kim Brimer to require a pilot test of SCR technology on a Midlothian cement kiln. It passes in the Senate but never gets out of the House. However, this is the fight that wets the appetite of Dr. Armendariz to get more involved in environmental policy-making. He never looks back.
Dr. Armendeariz writes a report predicting the just-approved smog plan wont work and DFW will still be in non-attainment by the deadline in 2009.
Theres a string of successes in green cement campaign – Plano, Dallas County Public School District, and Tarrant County. Denton, Mansfield and other cities and counties are considering green cement policies. So far, Downwinders had never lost a green cement vote and the margins are usually very lop-sided. Bush EPA regional Administrator Richard Greene writes letters to all three Midlothian cement plants requesting that they volunteer for an SCR pilot-test. Momentum is with the group.
TXI announces temporary idling of four wet kilns at its Midlothian plant. A spokesman for the company is quoted as saying its the recession and customers preference for green cement.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Ash Grove sues all the local governments that have passed green cement policies, claiming discrimination. Its mostly successful in freezing the number of cities and counties willing to pass new green cement policies, although Denton, UNT and FWISD write new green cement policies in the next year. Its the surest sign yet that the pressure of the green cement campaign has really become a problem for Ash Grove.
Another SCR bill is filed by Sen. Wendy Davis in the state legislature, as well as a green cement bill to remove any doubt that cities in Texas have a right to establish green cement policies. They still cant get through the House.
One of three national EPA hearings on new cement plant emission rules is held in DFW. Over 300 people turn out with 80 speakers testifying in favor of stricter limits from 10 am to after 8 pm. Its the best attended hearing of the three (the other two are in LA and DC).
Despite the deepest economic recession in 80 years, which idles factories and takes cars off the road, DFW still cannot meet the summer 2009 deadline for having clean air. The 2006 smog plan has officially failed. Dr. Armendariz was right.
After a long campaign on his behalf, Dr. Armendariz, the engineer Downwinders selected to be its technical advisor in 2006 is selected as EPA Regional Administrator.
January – As part of a larger legal settlement over violations, EPA and LaFarge Cement announce an agreement to host the first SCR pilot test in the US at LaFarges Joppa Illinois plant. EPA regulators cite the 2005-6 Texas report on NOx pollution in Midlothian as contributing to their insistence that the technology should be introduced in the U.S.
July – TXI announces it will permanently shut its four wet kilns in Midlothian and forfeit its hazardous waste permit.
First meeting of the newly reconstituted North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee to work on both the 85 ppb smog plan and the one to meet the new federal standard about to be announced. Downwinders at Risk holds one of three seats given to environmentalists.
August EPA formally announces the first new emission rules for cement plants in decades. They put additional pressure on Ash Grove to close its wet kilns. TXI submits a permit amendment to the state seeking to burn 7 new fuels at its Midlothian cement plant, including plastics and car fluff.
In January and February, Downwinders intervened in discussions toward a pending settlement between the Cities of Dallas and Arlington and Ash Grove Cement over those cities Green Cement procurement policies. We managed to help draft an agreement that both kept the policies and dropped Ash Grove's lawsuit.
As a special project within its on-going Safe and Legal Air campaign, Downwinders launched an effort to reduce smog-forming pollution from the gas industry doing business in the Barnett Shale. The “Fair Share for Clean Air” campaign is specifically aimed at the need to cut gas industry releases of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). As part of this effort, we commissioned a report by Dr. Melanie Sattler of The University of Texas at Arlington to estimate the amount of money saved by gas operators by implementing existing pollution controls. “Leaking Money: Potential Revenues from Reduction of Natural Gas and Condensate Emissions in North Central Texas” concluded over $50 million in lost product could be captured and sold.
In our effort to include more gas industry pollution cuts in the 2011 DFW clean air plan, Downwinders won the support of seven DFW city and county governments representing three and a half million residents, as well as both daily newspapers.
After an embarrassing vote in December 2010 that prevented the adoption of any new control measures for consideration in the new state air plan, Downwinders sounded the alarm in its e-newsletters, blogs and social media sites. The group was particularly critical of the vote in light of rising volumes of gas industry pollution that had never been regulated under previous air plans. In March, the Committee reconvened for a second vote on the question of new controls on gas industry sources. This time, the recommendations passed by a wide margin and they were one reason why the TCEQ ended up adopting a small cut in gas storage tank emissions – the first ever proposed by the state.
Other than this small victory, the new State Implementation Plan for DFW Ozone Pollution was a disappointment, with Austin saying it was relying on the purchases of new less polluting cars to get DFW back into Clean Air Act attainment by 2012. Drought and record heat produced an ozone season that was the worst in five years. Dallas replaced Houston as the Texas metropolitan area with the worst air quality.
In June, without any public notice or opportunity for public hearing, TXI received its permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to burn industrial wastes, ranging from plastics to car interiors.
In July of 2011, Downwinders launched its first new local grassroots group not centered on cement plants or smog when it accepted an invitation by Frisco residents to help them close the almost 50 year-old Exide lead smelter. “Frisco Unleaded” was born. Operating in the middle of America’s “fastest growing city,” the smelter has created DFW’s second non-attainment area by violating federal air pollution standards for the toxic metal. Exide releases a self-reported 3 to 4 thousand pounds of lead annually. There is no safe level of exposure to lead, especially for children, who can have their nervous systems permanently damaged by even small amounts in their bodies. Downwinders is acting as a sponsor, resource center, and experienced guide to a group of residents who believe the smelter is fundamentally incompatible with modern Frisco and the surrounding land uses, including schools and parks. They’re promoting“amortization” and closing of the smelter by the City of Frisco – the same measure Dallas implemented in the 1980’s with its urban lead smelters.
In April, Downwinders mails approximately 13,000 full-color, fold-out fliers with maps detailing the estimated fallout from Exide's lead emissions to Frisco residents. Pressure mounts on the city to begin amortization.
In May, a controversial deal is announced to close the Exide Lead smelter between the city and the company. The company wil case operations in exchange for the city buying acreage surrounding the smelter. Although it shutters the plant sooner than amortization would, it's uncertain what liability or leverage the city has in owning land aorund the site.
In November, the Exide smelter in Frisco finally closed for good. Residents celebrate, but their concerns now focus on a complete removal of the smelter's 50 years of toxic lead waste from their town.
In December, Downwinders joins with Dallas residents in opposing the permitting of three Trinity East gas wells and a huge compressor/refinery complex in northeast Dallas. The alliance is successful in winning a specially-called Planning Commission vote hld ony a few days before Christmas.
Downwinders helped to forge a citizens' alliance which fought back and defeated the permitting of the Trinity East gas wells in Northwest Dallas, as well as passed the most protective fracking ordinance in Texas.
TCEQ's 2011 air plan for DFW is the first in history to end with ozone levels higher than when it began.
Downwinders led the organizing around the new clean air plan proposed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, including public outreach for attendance at regional meetings, sponsoring presentations by scientists doing work on the contribution of Barnett Shale emissions on DFW smog, and presenting a public critique of the state's plan.
We began working with Mansfield Gas Well Awareness in Mansfield on a new gas ordinance, based on the Dallas model. As part of that campaign, we sponsored the first DFW presentation by a Texas MD on the health impacts of fracking.
When spokesmen for Holcim's Midlothian cement plant announce it will install new pollution control equipment to meet federal emission requirements, Downwinders presses for the first voluntary full scale SCR unit in the U.S. Holcim decides to apply for a permit from the state for an SCR unti on its Kiln #1 in Midlothian.
We helped organize around the EPA's national hearing in Arlington on the new proposed ozone standard. We also helped bring DFW citizens out for a hearing on the state's DFW air plan two weeks later.
With the Sierra Club, we co-authored 65 pages of comment on the state's air plan for DFW. Many of our arguments were echoed by EPA.
Holcim is awarded a permit by the State of Texas for the nation's first voluntary use of SCR technology on a cement plant. It's expected to be up and running by September 2016.
Some progress was made in Mansfield before the passage of state law HB 40 which prohibits municipalities in Texas from using traditional zoning to regulate where fracking can be done within city limits. Mansfield was probably the last Texas city to revise its gas drilling ordinance before HB 40 took effect.
In September, we helped with turnout again when EPA hosted a national hearing in Dallas on its new Methane rules.
We announced our first ever grassroots conference, The Root and Brand Revue, to take place during the first week in November, and featuring special guest Lois Gibbs.