TCEQ's War on Public Hearings

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You already know how much the current Perry-fueled Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has stripped the right of citizens to contest permits being issued like candy to polluters in Austin. In Texas, you can decide to change your entire fuel regimen, from coal to coal and tires, and plastics, and car interiors, as the TXI cement plant in Midlothian recently did, and not face any public questioning at all. Or say you want to tear down your old plant and put up a new one. You don't need any public comment or hearing for that either, as Ash Grove found out when it applied for its "permit amendment" to rebuild its Midlothian cement plant.There has been a very premeditated and methodical campaign to make it impossible for any member of the public to interfere in the least bit with the right of the polluter to do any damn thing they want. Today, TCEQ is voting to go after other state agencies' ability to interfere as well,making it impossible, for example, for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to intervene in a case where the state parks might be impacted by a polluter. The proposed rules would "have a significant impact on the TPWD's ability to carry out its statutory and regulatory obligations and its ability to protect the shared public resources of the State of Texas that are under TPWD's jurisdiction," the agency wrote TCEQ in protest. It's just another effort to destroy the checks and balances of a regulatory system that was already gamed toward industry in the first place. By the time this Governor leaves office, it may well be criminal offense to even ask for a public hearing.  

Comply or Be Shut Down

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Public outrage over cement plant pollution has sparked a government ultimatum that the industry must comply with new emission standards in three months or risk being shut down temporarily or permanently. This isn't happening n Western Europe. And because this isn't fiction, it's not the US either. No it's Dubai.  It's part of a larger effort to reduce polluiton from cement plants by 50% in three years  in that country, which is still experiencing a construction boom. Plus, how's this for nice touches, the plants also have to "ensure 50 per cent of the boundary of their factories be covered with trees and other foliage, to mitigate some of the carbon dioxide emissions and to 'improve the ecology' and appearance of the area."Meanwhile, we're hearing nasty rumors about the EPA possibly backing off its new cement plant emission rules that are due to be implemented in the fall of next year. Never thought we'd say it, but could we just be guaranteed the same kind of environmental protection as a Developing Country? 

"There are no safe doses for endocrine disruptors"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

That's the conclusion of a new report that was three years in the making. Dr. Laura Vandenburg of Tufts University led 12 other scientists in an effort that examined hundreds of recent studies on the effects to people and animals of hormone-changing chemicals that are widely used in industry, including cosmetics, pesticides and plastics. They found that even tiny doses of these chemicals, called "endocrine disruptors," can cause harmful health effects such as infertility, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer. Writing in a separate editorial about the report, Vandenburg stated that "After reviewing hundreds of studies, my colleagues and I have concluded that there truly are no safe doses for these hormone-altering chemicals. We found overwhelming evidence that these hormone-altering chemicals have effects at low levels, and that these effects are often completely different than effects at high levels. For example, a large amount of dioxin would kill you, but a very small dose, similar to what people are exposed to from eating contaminated foods, increases women’s risk of reproductive abnormalities." In North Texas, we're not only surrounded by endocrine disruptors in products we buy, but also in the air we breath. Lead from Exide's Frisco smelter is an endocrine disruptor. Many of the pollutants released by the Midlothian cement plants – TXI, Holcim and Ash Grove – are endocrine disruptors, as are a good percentage of the chemicals emitted by the gas industry when its fracking a well. Like so many other kinds of human-made pollutants, endocrine disrupters were allowed in commerce without full understanding of their possible public health effects. That's why the report also recommends that the way the government tests for a chemical's toxicity be modernized. Currently, there's no evaluation of health effects from endocrine disruptors at the low level of exposure encountered by most people. These chemicals actually can harm you more in smaller doses over a long period of time than really high short term exposures. It's called a "non-linear" response because it doesn't follow the old "the dose is the poison" rule that makes the amount of poison the driver of any possible toxic effects. “Current testing paradigms are missing important, sensitive endpoints” for human health, Vandenburg and Co. said.“The effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses. Thus, fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health.” In other words, we need a system that catches these chemicals before they're widely marketed in consumer products, or released as pollution into the environment; before we become unwitting lab rats.

Six-Year Green Cement Campaign Wins, Ash Grove to Decommission Last Wet Kilns in Texas™

Monday, February 27, 2012

(Dallas)—-Kansas City-based Ash Grove Cement Company has submitted a permit amendment to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that seeks permission to convert its Midlothian plant from three wet process kilns operation to a single dry process kiln by 2014. In a cover letter to the TCEQ dated January 13th, Trinity Consultants’ Kasi Dubbs writes that, “With this permit amendment application, Ash Grove is proposing to modify Permit Number 1 to decommission two kilns at the plant, and reconstruct that third kiln from a wet process kiln to a preheater, precalciner kiln system."According to the permit amendment application, total plant manufacturing capacity will decrease by 230, 000 tons a year, from a maximum of 1,182,000 tons of cement to 949,000 tons. Ash Grove claims that this decrease in capacity combined with cleaner dry process kiln technology will reduce pollution from its Midlothian operations by almost 105,000 tons of air pollution a year, including 98,000 tons of CO2, 6,000 tons of Sulfur Dioxide, and 560 tons of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides. Ash Grove’s decision means that in two years, Texas will no longer host any obsolete wet cement kilns that were the industry standard throughout the 20th Century but whose energy inefficiency and pollution made them disadvantageous in the 21stAs recently as 2008, Midlothian had almost a fifth of the nation’s total wet kilns. Wet kilns depend on massive quantities of water to mix the ingredients of cement and then uses equally massive amounts of energy to evaporate the water out of the cement through exposure to extreme heat. They began to fall out of favor after the second Arab oil embargo of the 1980’s when energy prices climbed significantly. Their numbers have been steadily declining for decades. In 2010, TXI Cement announced they were closing their four wet kilns in Midlothian, almost a decade after operating side-by-side with its huge new dry “Kiln #5”. With Ash Grove’s conversion, there will be only a handful of wet kilns left in the entire U.S. Citizens who had spent years campaigning to close the Midlothian wet kilns were celebrating. “This is truly an end to an era. These kilns have been operating since 1965. They were the dirtiest cement kilns in Texas. They inspired a grassroots rebellion in DFW that forced Ash Grove to court. Their closure is one more step in bringing all of the Midlothian cement plants into the modern era,” said Jim Schermbeck, Director of Downwinders at Risk, the local clean air group founded almost 20 years ago to oppose the burning of hazardous waste in the Midlothian kilns. It was Downwinders who broke the story on January 4th that Ash Grove was finally considering dry conversion in Midlothian, while also being the target of a national EPA enforcement action. The group encouraged it supporters to launch waves of e-mail blasts to both the company’s headquarters and EPA administrators urging Ash Grove to commit to dry conversion, while also seeking to include the switch as part of the agency’s list of demands in any national settlement. Nine days later, Ash Grove submitted its permit amendment to the TCEQ. Regulators admitted that the publicity probably accelerated the final corporate decision in Kansas City. In 2006, Downwinders successfully pushed for inclusion of a recommendation in that year’s DFW smog plan that urged local governments to buy cement exclusively from the state’s dry kilns to provide an incentive for wet kiln operators to modernize. Schermbeck and the group then began their “green cement campaign” that methodically collected agreements from city and county governments that cut Ash Grove off as a potential cement supplier for municipal and county projects. Dallas passed the nation’s first green cement policy in May of 2007 during the last days of Mayor Laura Miller’s term. Over the next two years, Ft. Worth, Arlington, Plano, Denton and the Dallas County School District passed green cement policies – all unanimously. When Tarrant County passed a green cement policy by a vote of 5-0 in November 2008 Ash Grove decided it couldn’t afford to lose any more customers and took the County and all the rest of the green cement cities to court. Last January, when it looked like Dallas and Arlington might be forced to give up their policies as part of a settlement with Ash Grove, Downwinders stepped in and was praised for reaching a compromise that saved the policies’ intent to force modernization, but removed the threat of Ash Grove legal action. Meanwhile, in the 2007 and 2009 state legislatures, green cement bills garnered a bi-partisan group of sponsors including former State Senator Kim Brimer, his successor, State Senator Wendy Davis, and Tarrant County State Representative Vickie Truett. Schermbeck noted that the green cement campaign had been of the few grassroots environmental success stories during the tenure of Governor Rick Perry. Ash Grove’s decision was also just the latest victory in a string of wins by citizens that have transformed each of the three Midlothian cement plants into more modern facilities. In 2005, Holcim Cement reached a settlement with Downwinders that resulted in the first use of a specific pollution control technology that is now standard equipment on new kilns. In 2008, TXI Cement suspended operation and then closed its four wet kilns, and stopped burning hazardous waste. Now Ash Grove is converting the last wet kilns in Texas. Comparing the emissions generated by all of the Midlothian cement plants before and after the changes sought by Downwinders over the last two decadesthere’ll be at least 23,000 tons less air pollution when the new Ash Grove kiln goes online in 2014 than at the peak of the bad old days in the late 1990’s and early part of the 21st Century at all three plants – not including the reduction of an estimated hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases like CO2 that weren’t even officially counted until recently.“I think anyone will be hard pressed to find a more successful grassroots group in the state of Texas over the last 10 years than Downwinders at Risk,” said Schermbeck. “It’s hard work to win even one of these concessions from industry. To be able to reduce this amount of air pollution from all three plants is an accomplishment that will be hard to duplicate. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be trying.”Schermbeck noted that the group has been busy pressing for the adoption of advanced pollution controls at the cement plants that have been used for a decade in Europe but have yet to reach the U.S.  He expects to see those controls included in the next DFW clean air plan. “We’re not stopping until every cement plant in North Texas is a state-of-the-art facility.” 

EPA releases Non-Cancerous Half of Dioxin Report

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After 21 years, four Presidents, countless political battles and lots of pollution, the EPA finally released its health reassessment of Dioxin this past Friday. Like so many environmental decisions from this Administration, the report splits important hairs.While confirming that ultra-low exposures (we're talking 1 millionth of a gram or less) to Dioxin can cause damage to a person's immune and reproductive systems, cause skin rashes and liver damage, EPA says that levels of exposure for most Americans have declined so much over the last two decades that there should be no significant risk. To at least one expert, that was an      "very odd statement." Arnold Schecter of University of Texas School of Public Health, noted that EPA's assurances really didn't jibe "because some people are more highly exposed than average and some groups, such as fetuses and nursing babies, are more sensitive to the effects." What other populations are more highly exposed to Dioxin? People who live downwind of facilities where its emitted – power plants, cement plants, and lead smelters, to name a few. DFW residents live downwind from all three. Exide's lead smelter in Frisco was the 9th largest dioxin polluter in Texas in 2009, releasing more of the poison than industrial facilities many times its size. While most exposures come through eating or drinking animal products that contain dioxin because the animals themselves were contaminated and store it in their fat, breathing in dioxins directly is also a pathway of exposure when you live near a place that burns hazardous wastes, smelts metals, or deals with a lot of chlorinated materials. Like millions of DFW residents. While there was a lot of disappointment by environmentalists at the lack of follow-through on the report, the food industry is sweating bullets over its conclusions. Last year, food industry groups wrote the EPA, stating that  most Americans could “easily exceed the daily [0.7 picogram limit] after consuming a single meal or heavy snack." Now they're afraid safer food advocates will use the report to push for new restrictions on how much of one of the most poisonous substances ever discovered can be included in their food products. Indeed. How unreasonable to expect less human-made poison dreck in your food. No release date for the part of the reassessment dealing with cancer risks

California Heavy Metal

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

In an excellent follow-up to its "Poisoned Places" series, the Center for Investigative Reporting focuses on a Lehigh cement plant in Tehachapi California that has seen its Mercury emissions skyrocket from just over 100 pounds a year to 872 pounds in 2010 – the most of any cement plant in the Golden Gate state and the second-highest among all cement plants in the United States. For comparison, all three Midlothian cement plants just south of Dallas reported a total of 86 pounds of Mercury released into the air in 2010, 50 pounds of which comes from Ash Grove's ancient wet kilns. Relatively speaking, it looks like we're a little better off.  Except the Ameristeel Steel Mill (formally Chaparral Steel) right across the street from TXI's cement plant released 606 pounds of Mercury in 2010. That's s lot. It's also a warning sign that could eventually affect TXI's numbers. The kiln has received a new "permit amendment" nt subject to any public participation to burn Auto Shredder Residue (ASR) from Ameristeel – basically all the non-steel parts of a car after they've been through an industrial blender. This waste could have a lot of Mercury (from switches in older cars) in it as indicated by the Steel mill's emissions of the poison. When TXI burns it, that Mercury will be coming out of its own smokestack. New EPA cement plant emission standards being implemented starting in 2013 will require controls for Mercury and other pollutants at all US kilns and they're causing a once-in-a-lifetime modernization of an industry that still relies on a lot of technology from the last century that was never updated. Jane Williams, California's #1 citizen Kilnhead and the folks in Chanute, Kansas that Downwinders has tried to help get a shout-out in the piece, as does Jim Pew with the EarthJustice legal team, who've been indispensable in bringing the industry into the 21st Century kicking and screaming.  

New Epidemiological Study: Kids Downwind of Kilns More Likely To Go to the Hospital

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thanks to fellow kilnhead Jim Travers, via our good and old friend Pat Costner, comes word of this new epidemiological studyof the population living adjacent to, and downwind from a cement plant in Italy, published January 14th in Environment International. According to the authors,"Epidemiological studies have shown the association between the exposure to air pollution and several adverse health effects. To evaluate the possible acute health effects of air pollution due to the emissions of a cement plant in two small municipalities in Italy (Mazzano and Rezzato), a case–control study design was used. The risks of hospital admission for cardiovascular or respiratory diseases for increasing levels of exposure to cement plant emissions were estimated, separately for adults (age > 34 years) and children (0–14 years)." It will come as no surprise to most of you that the study found a strong correlation between exposure to the cement plant's plumes and getting sick. "Statistically significant risks were found mainly for respiratory diseases among children…with an attributable risk of 38% of hospital admissions due to the exposure to cement plant exhausts. Adults had a… weaker attributable risk of 23%. Risks were higher for females and for the age group 35–64. These results showed an association between the exposure to plant emissions and the risk of hospital admission for cardiovascular or respiratory causes; this association was particularly strong for children." Lest you think Italian cement plants are any dirtier than US ones, realize that the Italian multinational Italcementi S.p.A, is the 8th largest cement manufacturer in the US, and that Italy has a SCR-equipped cement plant and the U.S. does not. These kinds of studies are extremely hard to do and that's why you don't see them often. That's too bad because they're one of the only ways you can ever put the circular logic of TCEQ and industry "toxicology" to the acid test. Everything leading up to granting an permit to pollute in Texas is based on guesstimates about how the new facility or equipment will operate and what its public health impacts will be. While it's now possible to determine if the plant may or may not be complying with the purely operational aspects of the permit, what check and balance can determine that it's not causing a public health problem? For the TCEQ, it's the theology/hypothesis that it's quite impossible for long-term, low-level chemical exposures to harm people because there's no proof. When citizens directly challenge this belief system with sampling results taken even as they were experiencing adverse health effects, showing the presence of industrial by-products in the air they're breathing, but below "safe levels,"  the state says that something else must have been causing their health problems. In 2012, TCEQ is the environmental equivalent of a Medieval Pope. Don't confuse them with your evidence, they have a religion to run. Or in their case, an industry agenda to implement. This is why direct, on-the-ground epidemiological studies like this one (or even associative ones like the local Cook Children's Hospital one featured in the graphic above) are so important. They are not guesstimates. They're not an hypothesis. They're real science telling you the system is not performing as predicted. We bet the Italian cement plant's permit promises not to cause a public health nuisance. And yet it appears that it does.  

First-Ever U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Gives a New Picture of DFW Pollution

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Yesterday, the EPA released the first national emissions inventory of Greenhouse Gases from the largest stationary sources. All 2010 releases of CO2, Methane, and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) from large industrial facilities were self-reported by industry  per EPA guidelines In North Texas, that meant a lot of cement plants, power plants, landfills and gas industry compressors and processing plants.Specifically, it's the first time we have a map of the impact of the last ten years of Barnett Shale gas mining. 45 gas plants or compressors with a total of over 2 million tons of GHGs were listed within the DFW "non-attainment area" for smog.Those usually don't show up in traditional Toxic Release Inventories that have been coming out annually since 1989. Totals from the three Midlothian cement plants accounted for almost 2.3 million tons of GHS. The cement plants were #3, 4, and 5 among the top CO2 emitters, and #1, 2, and 3 among the top ten NOx polluters. Ash Grove's dirty old wet kilns were the top NOx polluters in the entire North Texas area.Slightly exceeding the cement industry totals was the combined output of GHGs from regional landfills. While gas sources emitted primarily CO2, landfills released the majority of industrial methane as might be expected. Topping all those categories was the amount of GHG pollution released by the area's power plants, totaling 5.3 million tons in 2010. In all, over 100 facilities reported close to 13.4 million tons of GHGs in 2010. By County, Ellis assumed a top ranking because of the cement plant complex in Midlothian plus some huge emissions from the gas-fired power plant in Midlothian. Wise County was next with power plant and gas facility emissions, then Johnson, Hood, Dallas, Tarrant, Parker, Denton (where Frisco's Exide Lead Smelter was the top CO2 polluter) and then Collin. There were no listings for Kaufman of Rockwall. The placement of more rural counties ahead of Tarrant and Dallas reflects where the larger power plants, gas production facilities, and other large sources have been locating over the last 15 years or so. We're going to have more analysis as we continue to go through the inventory. You can download the entire national emissions inventory at the EPA's site here.  

Is Another Local Cement Company Under Federal Scrutiny?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

As of last week we know that Ash Grove's operations across the country are the target of an national PEA enforcement action similar to ones we've been seeing emerge after a couple of years of focused attention on the entire industry. In response, we asked you to let EPA know there was an opportunity to match that enforcement action with what we also now know to be Ash Grove's consideration of converting it Midlothian wet kilns to dry technology. From EPA comes word that the e-mail messages you sent have been received. But this week begins by Downwinders trying to confirm that the owners of a second Midlothian cement plan is also the subject of one of these EPA national enforcement actions. If true, it gives DFW citizens another chance to win public health concessions from one of the single largest polluters in the region. More to come as we find out what's going on. Please take note – despite the fact that the owners of two large North Texas cement plants look to be the target of federal action, the only place so far you'll find any news about this development is right here. Looking for more reporting on clean air issues in DFW? You found it.

Ash Grove Update and Thanks

Friday, January 06, 2012

As of this week, EPA officials mulling a national settlement agreement over various Ash Grove transgressions across the country know that the company is considering converting their Midlothian old wet kilns to new dry technology and can take that into account when drawing-up the terms of said settlement agreement. Also, as of this week, Ash Grove corporate headquarters knows the cat is out of the bag and the public knows it's considering the switch. That's more than either party knew last week – thanks to citizens. From all available indications, both the Ash Grove VP in charge of Environmental Affairs and the EPA's Assistant Administrator in charge of Civil Enforcement received lots and lots of e-mails yesterday about the subject because so many of you were nice enough to respond to our action alert. Thanks and well done. Having added these new ingredients into the mix, we will now stand back from the stove for a minute and watch to see how things stew. EPA could now make it clear that the national Ash Grove enforcement settlement must include a dry conversion of its Midlothian kilns. Ash Grove could decide to preempt what looks like a forced move by EPA and announce it's already made the decision. Maybe neither. Meanwhile, we're out shaking the bushes for more information. Since the company was supposed to make a decision by early December we can't help but feel some new development is imminent. Stay tuned. And thanks again for being active citizens instead of passive receptors.  

Will Ash Grove Decision Bring the End of Old Wet Kilns in Texas? Want to Help Make Sure?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Here's a Fighting for Air Exclusive: Rumors out of the Overland Park, Kansas headquarters of Ash Grove Cement indicate that the company is seriously considering converting its three Midlothian wet kilns into one or more dry ones. This would be instead of a piece meal approach of installing a variety of new pollution controls demanded by the new MACT rules going into effect in September, 2013. Apparently out of the running are the less drastic options of closing the plant all together, or building a new DFW plant on the property Ash Grove owns in Grayson, County. According to our source, Ash Grove says it has at least 50 years of limestone left at its Midlothian quarry and the company is trying to decide whether to invest in a dry conversion now or try to make a lot of new equipment demanded by EPA's new rules blend with a very old, out-of-date wet kiln facility.Adding to the company's consideration is the likelihood of coming greenhouse gas regulations for kilns and other changes that are designed for dry kiln adaptation. We haven't taken a recent count, but there are probably not more than 15 wet kilns left in the entire country. Ash Grove operates the Last Wet Kilns in Texas.™ Converting to a dry kiln would cut all kinds of air pollution significantly from Ash Grove's Midlothian cement plant, beginning with smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Particulate Matter, and Volatile Organic Compounds. It's been done before and there should be no technical obstacle to the change if Ash Grove wants to make it.  If you'd like to encourage Ash Grove to make the jump to a dry kiln,please feel free to drop a short and polite e-mail to Curtiss Lesslie, the company's Vice-President for Environmental Affairs at  curtis.lesslie@ashgrove.com. (Example: Dear Mr. Lesslie, as a resident of North Texas I'd appreciate it if Ash Grove would convert its Midlothian wet kilns to dry ones and pollute less. ThanksBut wait, there's an important factor that could help Ash Grove make its decision to convert to dry kiln technology. Downwinders has also learned that EPA is pursuing a nationwide, multi-plant enforcement action against Ash Grove that is now in settlement talks. These are the same kinds of national enforcement actions and settlements that have previously resulted in requiring new controls on kilns across the country and pilot testing of Selective Catalytic Reduction. As part of this national settlement, EPA couldrequire that Ash Grove convert to dry kiln technology or close its Midlothian plant. Will it? We don't know,but we know one way to encourage that result: sending a short e-mail to Cynthia Giles, the EPA Assistant Administrator who oversee these settlement agreements at giles-aa.cynthia@epa.gov.(Example: Dear Ms. Giles, As a resident of North Texas, I'd appreciate it if, as part of the Agency's nationwide enforcement settlement with Ash Grove Cement, the EPA would require the Ash Grove plant in Midlothian, Texas to convert from wet to dry kiln technology. It would help a lot with DFW air quality. Thanks.) We promise to follow this story as it develops. Stay tuned.   

Mighty Changes From Little Struggles Flow: Another Downwinders Success Story

Friday, December 30, 2011

This is not a story that will ever make national headlines. It hardly even got a respectably-sized article in the town where it's taking place. But for beat-down citizen-soldiers of the air wars looking for proof that their own local battles can affect national policy, it's a tale worth telling. Yesterday, the Department of Justice and EPA announced a settlement agreement with a multinational cement company called ESSROC. Among other things, the agreement calls for the pilot testing of advanced Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) pollution control technology at ESSROC's two obsolete wet kilns in Logansport, Indiana. Wet kilns like the three at Ash Grove's Midlothian plant. It will be the first demonstration of this remarkable technology on wet kilns anywhere in the world. Last year, DOJ reached a similar agreement with LaFarge Cement that's requiring a pilot test of SCR on a dry kiln in Illinois. Those results are due by July, 2013. The results from the wet kilns in Indiana will be due by May, 2015. This will be about the time the DFW area is trying to assemble a new clean air plan to reach the just-announced ozone standard of 75 parts per billion. We'll have pilot tests of SCR on both types of kilns in Midlothian, and Downwinders will be using those tests to advocate finally requiring SCR on all Midlothian cement kilns. In use in European cement kilns for a decade, SCR – basically a huge industrial size version of the catalytic converter every US car has – has been proven to reduce emissions of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides by 90% or more, while also reducing Particulate Matter pollution, metals, and dioxins. It's considered the gold standard of kiln control technology. When it does end up in Midlothian, SCR will be coming back to the kilns and people that are responsible for its import into the US. That's because Downwinders was the first citizens group in the country to began advocating the use of SCR in cement kilns – way back in the year 2000, as part of a DFW anti-smog plan. Impossible the state and cement companies said. Too expensive. Not technically feasible. We didn't win, but we kept up with information about the technology. A couple of years later, our modest assistance to a group of citizens fighting a proposed Holcim cement plant right on the banks of theHudson in New York gave us access to their hired engineering expertise, which had done its own technical review of SCR in Europe. We took that information and made it a basis for a demand in our own settlementwith EPA and TCEQ over the failed 2000 DFW air plan to do an independent review of SCR for application to the Midlothian kilns. That 2006 study is still the only study of its kind in the nation. Much to TCEQ's lasting chagrin, that report confirmed that SCR was technically and economically feasible for application on the Midlothian cement plants. TCEQ has done its best to run away from that report every since, even having its staff perjure themsleves in state legislature testimony about its conclusions, but it got published and distributed nationwide. Other states and engineers read it, and are still using it. During this same time Downwinders, with the help of funding acquired through yet another settlement, hired its first ever technical expert, a young engineer from SMU named Al Armendariz. One of his jobs was to review the SCR report we'd generated and collect more data on the track record of the technology in Europe. By the end of his stint, he was somewhat of an expert on cement control technology, especially SCR. And then he went to go to work as the Regional Administrator of EPA. As it happens, EPA was in the middle of a national enforcement initiative involving the entire US cement industry. Many of the violations that were found revolved around illegal and excessive emissions of Nitrogen Oxides. Downwinders pressed for SCR pilot tests as part of these agreements. In January, 2010 EPA and DOJ announced the LaFarge settlement requiring a first-ever US pilot test of SCR. In discussions with EPA Midwestern staff afterwards, it was clear that the TCEQ report and Downwinders's efforts were well-known and provided the technical evidence to help drive the settlement talks toward including an SCR provision. Yesterday' announcement of a new round of SCR pilot-testing indicates that influence is still being felt…..Did we need luck? Absolutely. Did we make our own luck? Absolutely. We were opportunistic as hell. We advanced the cause at every turn. We fit square pegs into round holes. Unrelated developments got pulled into relationships that built on previous steps because we saw a path that nobody else did. We slowly built the technical and political scaffolding we needed. And these last two years have seen the fruits of that strategy. What began as a demand for a specific control measure for a local DFW clean air plan has now brought the entire US cement industry to the brink of using a control technology that could bring massive reductions in pollution nationwide. This is a story about the un-sexy, un-Erin Brockovich way of grinding out incremental social change with small groups of very persistent people. And it's the way progress is made most of the time. Want to change the world? Start in your own backyard.  

Correction: Explaining the Two "Watch Lists" Featured in NPR's "Poisoned Places"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

In trying to get the news out quickly about the four-part NPR/Center for Public Integrity series on toxic pollution in America titled "Poisoned Places," we didn't do a very good job of explaining the origin and purpose of the two different "watch lists" that the reporters discovered and publicized.  In fact, we're pretty sure we got it dead wrong. So here's a second try. There's a list that was begun by the Bush Administration in 2004 that included what the EPA considered "high priority violators" nationwide. As of September, this list was about 1600 names long. In North Texas, TXI, Holcim, Ash Grove, Exide, Magnablend, the GM plant, the Bell Helicopter plant, and over 100 other sites are included on this longer "high priority violator" list. There's a second, smaller "watch list" of 464 facility names of facilities nationwide with on-going violations, but which no administrative action has been taken to resolve. This is the list that only two North Texas sites are on – GE Engine in Ft. Worth and Ash Grove Cement in Midlothian.  National Map of the 1600 sites is here. State map of the Texas sites on the 1600 list is here.

DFW full of "Poisoned Places"

Monday, November 07, 2011

Stung by criticism that it wasn't doing enough about cracking down on chronic polluters, and facing a tough re-election fight, the Bush Administration in 2004 established a secret "watch list" to help it identify the worst bad actors. If, after nine months of knowing about a critical environmental violation at a faclity, there still hadn't been any enforcement action, the facility took its place on the list. As of September of this year, that list had grown to 1,600 facilities. Thanks to NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, you can look at andinvestigate a map of the US identifying those 1600 plants, including over 100 in the DFW area when you use the Zoom tool the NPR website provides. Many names are familiar – TXI, Holcim, Ash Grove and theAmeristeel steel plant in Midltohian all make the list, as does the Exide lead smelter in Frisco, as doesMagnablend, the Waxahachie plant that just blew up, as does places you might suspect like the GM plant in Arlington or the Bell plant in Ft. Worth, However, there are lots and lots of places that maybe you haven't suspected, like the Americhem plant in Mansfield, or Valley Solvents and Chemicals in North Ft. Worth. The sites on the list are rated 1 to 5 on a EPA "Risk Factor Scale," with 5 being the maximum risk. All of those sites we just listed are all rated at Risk Factor 5 – that is the combination and/or volume of chemicals released make them among the most dangerous sites on that "watch list." But wait, there's more. Within this larger watch list, there's a second, more selective list of REALLY bad actors that numbers 464. Almost 10% of those sites are in Texas, but only two are in DFW: GE Engine Services on FAA Blvd. in Ft. Worth and our good friends at Ash Grove Cement. You remember Ash Grove – the owners of the last obsolete wet kilns in Texas that refuse to modernize their cement plant just south of DFW. As we remarked on Monday when DFW officially replaced Houston as the "Smog Capital of Texas," DFW hasn't historically been associated with dirty air and dirty industries the way the Gulf Coast has been. Unfortunately, that's changing.

The View from Midlothian

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Here's a new Salon article on the continuing battle by House Republicans, including Smokey Joe, to roll back the 2008 cement plant emission rules that had overwhelming popular support, with an emphasis on what is means for Midlothian, "the Cement Capitol of Texas." As usual, the Midlothian city leadership distinguishes itself with its aggressive ignorance on the subject of cement plant pollution, and adopts the knee jerk position that any regulation of these facilities is over-regulation. That's the same fearless stand the city fathers took in the 1980's and 90's too – when there wasn't any regulation at all. Good to know they're keeping up with the changing times. One day in the future, Midlothian residents who don't make their living from cement are going to get tired of having their health threatened  by people who only have the cement plants' interests at heart. But not today.  

Two More Wet Kilns Close: Judgement Day for Ash Grove is Nigh

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Word comes that the 100 year-old LaFarge Fredonia Kansas wet kiln cement plant is closing. There's no current good count, but that must leave less than a dozen such wet kilns left in the entire country. There's no doubt that the recession is to blame for exacerbating the cost disadvantages of these relics, but there's also the new EPA emission rules that are still, despite Republican and and Industry opposition, scheduled to take effect in the fall of 2013. For a couple of wet kilns like those in Fredonia to try and comply would mean a very large investment in new pollution control equipment like scrubbers, a new baghouse, and maybe even SNCR for a facility that is already inherently inefficient and more costly to run. This is the same dilemma faced by DFW's own Ash Grove wet kiln cement plant in Midlothian, whose Kansas-City based owners haven't yet indicated whether they will close it or choose to upgrade its circa 1965 operation. For the amount of new equipment that would have to be installed, there would probably be at least a year to 18 month construction and start-up. Meaning that if Ash Grove isn't doing some heavy duty remodeling by this Spring or next Fall, you can pretty much count them out. What the company may be waiting on, along with the rest of the cement industry, is to see whether President Obama is re-elected. If he's defeated, then you can be sure the new EPA rules, despite already being promulgated, would never be implemented, and Ash Grove can continue to operate its ancient plant without having to do a thing. If he's in for another four years, they're stuck with the rules, and probable closure. Don't think voting makes a difference?

President Says He'll Veto Cement Rules Rollback Legislation

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

It won't come to that because this thing will never make it out of the Senate, but ti's still good to see the President draw the line in the sand somewhere, Here's the complete statement issued by the Administration yesterday: 

Another Wet Kiln Bites the Dust

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Holcim's Catskill plant from the 1960's – circa Ash Grove's wet kilns – decides to throw in the kiln and close. 

Kiln cuts Mercury pollution 90 percent complying with new EPA rules

Saturday, June 04, 2011

That's why the new MACT/NESHAP rules for cement plants that take effect in 2013 are so very important. That's why fighting Congressional Republican efforts to repeal them is so important. And that's why Downwinders at Risk spent over a decade fighting for them, in the courts, in the EPA, and in the court of public opinion. 

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