In Europe, LafargeHolcim is a multinational cement manufacturer based in Switzerland and France – two countries on the cutting edge of climate crisis planning and members of the progressive European Union. The Company portrays itself as a climate-conscientious corporate citizen, to the point of its Swiss CEO declaring the reduction of CO2 emissions as his first, most important priority.
In Midlothian Texas, LafargeHolcim runs the most conventionally dirty cement plant in Texas and is seeking a permit that could make it one of the most climate-hostile one as well. In fact, there’s some reason to believe the Holcim plant in North Texas is preparing to burn by-products from either the Canadian Tar Sands, the Permian Oil Field, or both, as fuel.
Baking rock to make cement takes a lot of heat. Regardless of how new or old a cement kiln is, regardless of the pollution controls a kiln has, every cement maker in the world still has to employ the same age-old process of applying a 2000 degree open flame to a mix of limestone and other ingredients. A third or more of the cost of running a cement plant is keeping that open flame consistently hot enough to do the job.
This is the reason cement kilns will always try to find
cheap, free, even profitable sources of fuel for that flame. Hazardous and industrial wastes that can be diverted from incinerators or landfills can be burned in cement kilns for slightly less money because they don’t have to meet the same standards. Used tires and oil. Lottery tickets. Dashboards from cars. Even municipal waste is now being burned in kilns.
Burning anything causes air pollution. Burning wastes causes lots of conventional and exotic air pollution, including CO2. But just baking limestone rock also releases a lot of stored CO2. Even if there was some was to make cement without a flame, the heat needed would still release tons of CO2.
Worldwide the cement industry is estimated to be responsible for 5 to 7% of the planet’s CO2 emissions – larger then the airline industry. If the industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter on earth, behind the United States and China.
Companies like LafargeHolcim are facing both public and financial pressures to reduce that number. In July European funds managing $2 trillion in assets called on cement companies to slash their greenhouse gas emissions, warning that a failure to do so could put their business models at risk. The mangers specifically mentioned LafargeHolcim and urged it to adopt the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and align itself with the Paris Climate Accords.
LaFarge Holcim has responded by initiating a series of technical innovations and pilot projects under the banner of “The Plant of Tomorrow” to prove its forward thinking.
Almost 300 facilities around the globe are targeted for inclusion in one or more of these “Plant of Tomorrow” projects, including a Canadian kiln installing a carbon-capture pilot project, an Ohio kiln building three wind turbines to secure its electrical needs, and kilns burning industrial waste as “low carbon” (if not low toxic) fuel.
Left out of this mix so far is Holcim’s woe-be-gone Midlothian plant. You might call it Holcim’s “Plant of Yesterday.” Despite having lots of stiff competition, Holcim not only operates the dirtiest cement plant out of the three doing business in Midlothian, but it’s the dirtiest in the entire state.
Holcim’s Midlothian plant is the largest Carbon Monoxide (CO) polluter among all 10 Texas cement plants – a sign of poor combustion. It’s the second largest Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) polluter among the bunch, emitting almost twice as much smog pollution as the other two Midlothian cement plants combined. It’s the largest PM 2.5 (Particulate Matter) polluter by far – almost 100 tons a year separate it from second place. It’s the largest Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) polluter by a large margin and releases four times as much Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) than the next highest plant. Almost all 2017 pollution numbers for Holcim have gone up over the last five years. A plant that was already bad is getting worse.
Now add Holcim’s request for a new permit to burn 100% Petroleum Coke in one of its two kilns.
Pet Coke is a byproduct of oil refining. It’s a concentrated carbon solid residue that is left behind after the refining process has converted the bulk of the oil into liquid fuels such as gasoline and diesel.
Pet Coke is like coal, but dirtier. Pet Coke looks and acts like coal, but it has even higher carbon emissions than coal. On a per-unit of energy basis Pet Coke emits 5 to 10 percent more carbon dioxide than coal. A ton of Pet Coke yields on average 53.6 percent more co2 than a ton of coal.
As well as significantly higher co2 emissions, Pet Coke also has high sulfur and toxic metals content than coal.
Because its a waste product, Pet Coke is cheap for Holcim to buy or it could even be free if a refinery wanted to get rid of its supply. And now, thanks to the exploitation of the Tar Sands and the oil boom in the Permian the US has lots and lots of Pet Coke. The heavy oil refining capacity in America is now the largest in the world, with over 40 percent of the global market. Much of that production takes place on the Texas Gulf Coast in huge new expanded refinery complexes like Motiva and Total in Port Arthur. The capacity to produce Pet Coke in U.S. refineries has doubled since 1999. In fact, the annual production of Pet Coke is so large these days, it’s outstripped most of the usual uses for it and is “priced to move.”
Because Holcim wants to burn 100% Pet Coke, and it must have a reliable source to burn it 24/7, there’s reason to believe the company has signed a sweetheart deal with one or more refineries to supply it. Probably from the Gulf Coast, and probably from one of the refineries dealing in Canadian Tar Sands oil or Permian Basin product. Both are poster boys for irresponsible fossil fuel development with the Tar Sands and the Keystone Pipeline igniting modern Climate Crisis activism and the Permian becoming one the planet’s largest sources of Methane as tons of unused natural gas are burned off from thousands of rigs.
Currently, Holcim is “only” the third largest CO2 polluter among all ten cement plants in Texas, and fourth among all of Holcim’s U.S. plants. But burning 100% Pet Coke in its Kiln #2 could change that rapidly by adding a whopping 400,000 tons more of CO2 to its annual totals. That would send it to #2 in Texas and #2 in the entire US Holcim fleet of cement plants. Not very climate conscientious. And probably not a number you want to tout in trying to sell your “Plant of Tomorrow.”
At the same time Holcim is trying to project an image of a concerned 21st Century corporate entity to the rest of the world, it’s doing business in Texas like its still 1999.
Officially, the State of Texas doesn’t care about CO2 pollution. Heck, officially it doesn’t even believe there’s a climate crisis. There is no regulatory system for controlling its releases and only the EPA bothers to track CO2 releases at all. So this increase in planet-melting pollution will go completely unaddressed in the permit proceedings themselves.
Also officially, despite the evidence, the State and Holcim both say no other kinds of pollution will increase when 100% Pet Coke is burned at Holcim. No increase in PM 2. 5. No increase in SO2. No increase in metals. Citizens don’t believe them. A group calling itself “Midlothian Breathes” has formed to fight the new permit and has already caught regulators off guard asking tough questions about new emissions.
But trying to get the State of Texas to do the right thing about air pollution is an uphill fight. Instead, perhaps citizens should take these embarrassing numbers directly to LafargeHolcim, who’s claims of new fund corporate responsibility are belied by them. Contrasting its Texas operations with those of the rest of its facilities may be a way to shame the company in its own European backyard. Officially the company may still be able to be embarrassed. Texas state government left that possibility behind years ago.
Increases Predicted in Air Pollution, including 100 more tons of PM a Year
Holcim Cement’s Midlothian cement plant has requested a permit application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to release an additional 2700 tons per year of Carbon Monoxide and burn 100% Petroleum Coke in its Kiln #2. Holcim estimates these change will set of federally-mandated reviews for increases in emissions of Particulate Matter (PM), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SOx), and Carbon Monoxide (CO).
Notice of the company’s permit amendment was published in the Midlothian Mirror earlier in the month.
Holcim is one of three very large cement plants doing business just south of I-20 in Midlothian in what is the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. The other two are TXI and Ash Grove. These are not batch plants. These are where the batch plants get their product. With annual air pollution emissions in the thousands of tons, any one of these kilns would easily be the largest “stationary” industrial source of air pollution in North Texas. Combined, they represent a mega source of air pollution for DFW.
Review of the numbers in the permit application show the company wants to scrap its current limit of a little over 4000 tons a year for Carbon Monoxide and replace it with a higher 7112 ton per year ceiling. In addition, the difference between actual emissions and proposed changes could result in 100 tons more of Particulate Matter, 260 more tons of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide, and 1700 additional tons of Sulfur Dioxide.
Missing from the permit analysis is the impact of the changes on CO2 climate crisis pollution. Petroleum Coke is nothing but carbon. It releases a lot of CO2 when burned. Burning 100% Petroleum Coke at Holcim will significantly increase this kind of air pollution. Cement plants are already a huge source of CO2 worldwide and Texas leads the country in CO2 pollution.
Overall, it’s the largest requested air pollution increase from any of the three Midlothian kilns in a very long time. And it reveals how badly the snake-bit 20th Century Holcim plant is aging.
Holcim’s current air pollution levels are already way out of sync with the other two, newer cement plants in Midlothian, and the Holcim facility has had a long troubled history with what its owners claim is a problem with the area limestone – the same patch of limestone the other two plants use. Holcim is already releasing 14 times the amount of four major air pollutants compared to Ash Grove’s 2014 renovated plant, and three times the amount of those same pollutants as TXI. This permit amendment would make the difference even starker.
Clearly Holcim has a problem child cement plant. Since Kiln #1 opened in 1999 it’s never performed to expectation. Because it would otherwise have set off a national non-attainment area for Sulfur Dioxide, Holcim had to add scrubbers to the plant before it even opened. When Kiln #2 was added in 2000, Holcim predicted it would cut pollution in half. Instead it doubled air pollution and by EPA decree the company had to add new pollution controls and buy Downwinders at Risk an independent scientist to monitor their operations. Now Holcim is saying their longstanding plan to reduce Carbon Monoxide pollution at that second kiln just didn’t work out and they need to increase their CO “permit allowables” by over 2700 tons a year.
Even for a very large cement plant, that’s a significant increase in pollution. CO pollution is a red flag for poor combustion, which is always worrisome when you’re looking at a facility of Holcim’s size that’s burning a flame at 2400 degree flame 24/7/365. Poor combustion at a cement plant burning tires and industrial waste, as Holcim does, or even coal and Petroleum Coke, means the creation of more “Products of Incomplete Combustion,” or “PICs.”
PICs are bad news. Dioxin – the poison in Agent Orange – is a PIC but there are thousands more. Some are extremely toxic. Holcim is already releasing 168 times more CO than the newer Ash Grove plant – located just across Highway 67, and nine times more than former Bad Boy TXI. That’s a lot of potential PICs. Something isn’t right in the basic design of the plant to make it so inefficient, but instead of investing in a new plant, Holcim just wants to increase its pollution levels.
There’s a second part of Holcim’s request that’s even more disturbing. Besides the increase in CO pollution, Holcim is seeking approval from the State to burn 100% Petroleum Coke as a fuel for its Kiln #2.
Cement kilns need a cheap source of fuel. Since 1960 the Midlothian kilns have burned gas, coal, hazardous waste, tires, used oil, car inards, plastic packaging, and other “industrial wastes” to keep a flame at 2400 degrees F or hotter. But never 100% Petroleum Coke.
Pet Coke is a refinery waste high in BTU value and sulfur content. It’s very dirty. It’s basically solid carbon. In the application submitted by Holcim, the company says Particulate Matter pollution could go up by 100 tons per year. There’s also a very good chance of increases in smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide pollution. Separately there’s also a significant but undocumented increase in CO2 that will occur because of Pet Coke’s composition, so this is a very bad Climate Crisis move as well.
Holcim says not to worry – most of these increases are on paper only and they’re not really changing the emissions, just “refining them.” But with the plant’s history, it’s more likely air pollution will increase, and not by a little bit.
TCEQ’s permit engineer assigned to the Holcim case says this is only a preliminary application and that the company will have to answer more questions about pollution increases, and more importantly will have to stage a “test burn” to see what the impact of burning 100% Pet Coke will actually be (under ideal conditions when everyone is looking over their shoulder). Many long time observers of the modern TCEQ under Governor Greg Abbott are skeptical any of this will happen before Holcim gets their permit however.
Because of the increased volumes of pollutants, this application will be generating an official response from Downwinders requesting at least one public meeting for a briefing on the permit and objecting to any increase in PM and NOX, insisting on test burns using 100% Pet Coke before the permit is approved, and protesting any increase in Climate Crisis pollution.
There’s two responses you can take right now to oppose Holcim’s permit amendment:
1) You can request a public meeting in Midlothian to have the TCEQ and company brief the public on the permit amendment and have the opportunity to ask questions
AND ALL LOCAL STATE REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS
Requests should be addressed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as well as local State Representatives and Senators – not just those representing Midlothian.
TCEQ, Office of the Chief Clerk, MC-105, P.O. Box 13087 Austin, Texas 78711-3087
Texas State Senators
St. Senator Brian Birdwell/Midlothian: Brian.Birwell@senate.texas.gov, 512-463-0122
St. Senator Royce West/Southern Dallas County: email@example.com 512-463-0123
St. Senator Beverly Powell/ Southern Tarrant County: firstname.lastname@example.org 512-463-0110
Texas State Representatives
Rep. John Wray/Midlothian: email@example.com 972-938-9392
Rep Yvonne Davis/ Southern Dallas County: firstname.lastname@example.org 512-463-0598
Rep. Carl Sherman/Southern Dallas County: email@example.com 512-463-0953
Rep. Chris Turner/ Southern Tarrant County/Arlington: Chris.Turner@house.texas.gov 512-463-0574
Contact all of these folks individually, or you can send them and the TCEQ the same email requesting a public meeting on Holcim’s permt via Downwinders’ ClickNSend feature. Leave your own personal message too.
2) Request a Contested Case Hearing
If you feel you’ll be affected by Holcim’s new air pollution, you have a right to ask for a contested case hearing – a formal legal proceeding that sets a higher bar for Holcim to get a permit. In order to request a Contested Case hearing, you must send the TCEQ Chief Clerk:
1) YOUR NAME, or GROUP NAME
2) MAILING ADDRESS AND TEL #
3) APPLICANT’S NAME AND PERMIT #: Holcim, Air Quality Permit 8996 and PSDTX454M5
4) THIS EXACT STATEMENT: ” I/We request a contested case hearing.”
5) A DESCRIPTION OF HOW YOU WILL BE HARMED BY HOLCIM’S AIR POLLUTION
6) THE LOCATION OF YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS AND THE APPROXIMATE DISTANCE TO THE HOLCIM CEMENT PLANT TO THEM.
7) A DESCRIPTION OF HOW YOU USE THE PROPERTY AFFECTED BY HOLCIM’S AIR POLLUTION (HOME OR BUSINESS OR RECREATIONAL)
8) A LIST OF DISPUTED ISSUES
Example: 1. Any increase in PM Pollution from Holcim will be harmful to my health and enjoyment of my property, 2. There has been no evaluation of the PM, NOx, SOx, or CO emissions of burning 100% Petroleum Coke in Kiln #2, 3. There has been no evaluation of the burning 100% Petroleum Coke in Kiln #2 on increase in CO2 4. Holcim’s cement plant isn’t applying Best Practices and Best Available Control Technology for emission reductions of PM, CO, NOx, and SOx.
Send your request to the TCEQ’s Chief Clerk:
TCEQ, Office of the Chief Clerk, MC-105, P.O. Box 13087 Austin, Texas 78711-3087
Last time we reported on the prospects of a new regional air monitoring network the idea received a 7-0 vote from a Dallas City Council Committee on September 24th but was delayed by staff request from going to the council until December 12th.
There was conjecture at the time that the delay was an excuse to actually find ways to kill the idea and if that was the goal, it’s succeeding so far. After a year of hearing no objections from Dallas staff to the idea of establishing an independent entity among local governments to run the network, all of a sudden City Hall took great offense at the very idea.
Over the past month Dallas County has been in talks with Dallas city staff to find another way to implement the network. Government-sponsored non-profits are being studied. Downwinders continues to advocate a entity that assures public participation in decision-making and robust enough to maintain a growing network of different monitors in different cities. Without more progress being made quickly it’s hard to figure out how the proposal makes it before the Council by December 12th.
While Dallas delays, both San Antonio and Houston are proceeding with their own new air monitoring networks.
In San Antonio, it’s through a deal with IKE Smart City that will trade ads on kiosks for 30 free kiosks that will give directions, recommend local eateries, provide free WiFi in a 150-foot radius, and take Particulate Matter pollution readings. The project is funded entirely by IKE Smart City. Unlike DFW, San Antonio hasn’t even violated the Clean Air Act and it already has more monitors than the Metromess.
Beginning in December 2017 the Environmental Defense Fund working with the Houston Health Department and the university of California Berkley placed 20 air quality sensors across the city. Some were placed in known pollution hots spots like the predominantly black neighborhood of Pleasantville on Houston’s east side, where pollution from warehouses, metal recyclers, salvage yards, an Anheuser-Busch’s Houston brewery and an interstate often make it hard to breathe.
“If somebody asked me how many fixed site monitors we need, I would say there are never enough,” said Loren Raun, chief environmental officer with the Houston Health Department, which has since received funding to purchase similar instruments from Entanglement Technologies.
One can’t imagine anyone on Dallas city staff saying the same thing. In fact on more than one occasion staff has said they’re just fine with the nine monitors the Texas Nature Conservancy is due to be installing at Dallas schools this year and they’re in no rush to add any more.
And one especially can’t imagine Dallas city staff going along with putting monitors in known Dallas pollution hot spots like Joppa or West Dallas. Despite the recent controversy over the proposed two new batch plants rejected by the City Council in March – in part because of portable monitor readings from Downwinders showing already high levels – staff said recently they still have no plans to purchase their own air sensors.
This kind of official rebuff to high tech low cost sensors gives lie to the city staff’s rhetoric about “Smart Cities”as well as its sudden concern over asthmatic black kids. If staff really cared about them, why wouldn’t it buy air monitors it could use in field to investigate complaints in their neighborhoods instead of just guessing the air quality there, or using an EPA monitor nine miles away to claim everything was just fine? Why wouldn’t the City be rushing to install monitors in hots spots like Joppa? Because statements made in pursuit of Rockefeller Foundation grants do not carry the force of law, or even as it turns out, curiosity.
Thursday, December 6th
Catch the bus at 6:30 or 7:00 pm
at the Green Door in the Farmers Market District
600 South Harwood Dallas 75201
Plug In. Get Lit. Stay Current.
How did we get from cement plants burning hazardous waste in Midlothian to transit or and school buses making runs in inner city Dallas?
The answer is PM, Particulate Matter. The two-decade fight against the cement plants was one long primer on PM pollution. They were, and remain the largest industrial sources of the pollution in North Texas. We learned firsthand about the toxicity, reach, and insidious health effects of PM pollution. Not just strokes and asthma, but IQ loss, Autism, Dementia, Diabetes, low-weight births. PM is the new lead.
Every boiler, furnace, fire, flame and combustion engine produce PM. Diesel engines emit an exceptionally toxic form of PM called Black Carbon.
Because they’re on the road so much, are diesel or natural gas-powered, and make people wait by the side of traffic-heavy roads to ride, bus systems turn out to be a major source of PM pollution. And climate change gases. And smog. A rough estimate shows DART’s bus fleet would be the 10th largest PM source in Dallas County if it were all parked in one spot. But of course its the dispersed nature of a bus fleet’s pollution that often makes it more of a widespread threat to public health than a stationary “point source” a.k.a. an industrial facility.
What’s missing is a constituency for electrification of school district bus fleets and transit agencies like DART and Trinity Metro. Because of the potential impacts and benefits, this could be a wide-ranging and powerful alliance – PTAs, transit riders, physicians, environmentalists, environmental justice advocates, and even the utilities that could buy the power from bus batteries. But until we get the ball, er wheel rolling, its all just that – potential.
One of the reasons we’re sponsoring the December 6th “Electric Glide bus pub crawl” as part of this year’s Root and Branch is that we wanted to start that rolling. And real, wheels-on-the-bus-go-round-and-round rolling discussions and presentations on the advantages of electric buses are part of the evening, but so is just showing your support for the goal of electrification as something local officials could accomplish right now, especially if they combine their collective purchasing power.
The more people that show-up on the 6th, the more DART and local school boards – whose memberships we’re inviting as well – will get the impression someone gives a damn and the more we’re a force to be reckoned with. We need a people’s lobby for 21st Century electric buses in DFW.
In exchange for coming out and forking over $25, we give you three custom drinks, Graham Dodds’ food, a presentation by Dale Hill, the co-founder of the Proterra electric bus manufacturer, and maybe, just maybe some food for thought about what we all can do right now to advance a bunch of causes in one campaign that’s winnable at the local level in the Trump era.
Thursday, December 6th
Catch the bus at 6:30 or 7:00 pm
at the Green Door in the Farmers Market District
600 South Harwood Dallas 75201
Plug In. Get Lit. Stay Current.
A note of explanation: There are two meetings next week in DFW concerning the large and complicated Volkswagen legal settlement over the company’s lying about the air pollution its diesel vehicles emit. Each state, as well as about 20 counties in Texas, are looking to score millions for various reasons and programs.
The two DFW meetings are sponsored by Public Citizen/Texas. We love Public Citizen and when they asked us to co-sponsor these meetings, we reflexively signed-up, even without knowing the details. There are efforts around the country to use this money to electrify school and city bus systems and challenge the status quo in interesting unconventional ways that might not be possible without large wads of cash.
But…what we didn’t know at the time we agreed to be co-sponsors was that the meeting is really a larger effort by something called the Texas Clean Air Working Group – an official statewide organization of local county governments working with other officials and businesses – to solicit comments…and most likely, direct the money to their priorities.
As a result, the North Texas Council of Governments is the major local coordinating entity for the Working Group. The COG will be presenting its version of a “DFW air quality update” and helping to coordinate responses. We did not know this until last Thursday, when we asked for details of who was doing what presentations.
This is problematic for Downwinders at Risk on a couple of fronts.
For one thing, NTCOG is one of the reasons DFW is STILL in violation of the Clean Air Act after 26 years. They have a perpetually overly optimistic perspective. They have a close relationship with TCEQ because they get so many grants from them, and they frequently side with the State on air quality issues. They see air pollution only thru the prism of federal transportation dollars at risk over our “non-attainment: status – not public health. In 2015 citizens had to raise money to do the DFW air computer modeling that neither TCEQ nor COG would do. You aren’t going to get a very realistic picture of DFW air quality, or the need to do more about it, from a COG presentation.
Secondly, the preferred use of the VW settlement money by many of these local governments and NTCOG is either expansion or replacement of their own natural gas fleets, or supplementing existing state programs the state legislature has refused to adequately fund, like the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP). In effect the goal of most of the members of the Working Group is to reinforce the status quo, not change it.
Because of these reasons, we’ve asked to be taken off the list of co-sponsors. We don’t feel comfortable with our name being used to promote a more rose-color than-real picture of DFW air pollution. or natural gas as the solution to that not-as-bad-as-it looks problem.
The suggestions made at these meetings will be channeled through the NTCOG, who has already given the state a quote for the amount of money it wants and a list of what it wants to spend it on. There is no citizens lobby being organized separately to argue for different priorities.
Looming over all of this is the fact that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and/or the Governor’s office determines where the state’s part of the settlement goes. So don’t expect much. In fact, Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General is suing over the settlement, specifically trying to eliminate the $2 billion set-aside for “zero-emissions” vehicle development as “unconstitutional.”
Paxton is also suing to get 20 Texas counties, including almost all the major urban areas, to drop their own VW suits. Why would the counties want that money? Because they don’t trust the state to spend it on improving air quality. Dallas County Commissioners Court sent the state the same message this last month when it voted to stop collecting the $6 inspection fee the state is supposed to be reimbursing to local governments for air quality programs, but instead is just sitting in the general revenue pile to cover-up cuts in other programs.
So even while local governments in Texas are already lobbying hard to get their share of money from Austin, Austin is trying to make their pool of money smaller and eliminate zero emissions vehicle funding all together. Cross-purposes? Yep. But that’s Texas government in 2017.
What: EPA Rollback of Smog Standards – and Everything Else
Action: Submit Public Comments here ASAP
In accordance with Executive Order 13777, titled “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” establishing a federal policy “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens,” the Trump EPA is now seeking ways to “repeal, replacement, or modify” existing regulations. Among the most prominent targets are newly-implemented smog standards and pillars of the Clean Air Act.
This follows a similar order in January, that despite coming out of the Commerce Department, was also squarely aimed at the EPA, with 48 of the 168 comments received specifically mentioning Clean Air Act regulations and 31 called for reconsidering the New Source Review process that insures continued progress in control technology.
Initially the conversation was between the regulated and regulators. But now comes the opportunity for the rest of us to officially comment. Since industry has had a considerable head start we need to make sure this public record can’t be used by the Trump Administration to justify the dismantling of the EPA.
Before they begin trying to take apart the EPA, the Trump Administration has to get public comment. You must submit your comments through the reguations.gov site. You must submit them on or before May 15, 2017.
In case you need a quick thumbnail “Hell No!,” here’s some language you can cut and past right into the regulations.gov text box online and be done with it:
As someone who lives in a region that hasn’t complied with the Clean Air Act since 1991, I reject any roll back of existing EPA regulations concerning federal ozone standards, as well as oil and gas facility emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, cement and coal plant emissions, or other large sources of air pollution. EPA should be working to protect public health, not conspiring with polluters to make regulations weaker or disappear. Improvements in air quality are documented to improve economic productivity and growth. Public health is the first priority. Keep your hands off current EPA regulations.
Trump’s Administrative Orders are just one front in the assault on Obama-era environmental regulations. Another tactic is refusing to defend new regs in court cases where industry is challenging them.
That’s exactly what happened in early April when the EPA backed out of arguing for the new 70 ppb ozone/smog standard in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that was slated to hear oral arguments. In its filing, the Agency stated, “At this time, EPA officials appointed by the new Administration are closely reviewing the 2015 Rule to determine whether the Agency should reconsider the rule or some part of it….Given the broad-reaching economic implications of the 2015 ozone standard, we are carefully reviewing the rule to determine whether it is in line with the pro-growth directives of this Administration,” an EPA spokesperson, J.P. Freire said.
As the Oklahoma Attorney General, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt joined Texas and eight other states in unsuccessfully fighting the initial implementation of the standards, which they said were unnecessary to protect human health. An EPA Science panel had concluded the opposite, stating lowering the standard from 75 to 70 parts per billion was the minimum necessary to protect health, and advised a more aggressive standard of 60-65 ppb, which even the Obama Administration recoiled from implementing before the 2012 election.
However, what the Trump Administration is now proposing is a roll back from the new 70 ppb standard, either by official repeal or unofficial non-enforcement, to the current 75 ppb, which will also probably be “loosely” enforced. That standard was found to be “not protective” of public health.
Because the Clean Air Act specifically says the standard must be science-based and any deviation will be headed to court, a permanent roll back is less likely than just ignoring the law, but the damage will be the same in the meantime.
In DFW this means that the current smog planning process, which had the potential to do so much good with a federal substitution of the state’s second do-nothing plan, is now DOA. That plan was another attempt to just get the region down to 75 ppb, the old standard. It didn’t even address the new 70 ppb standard now in jeopardy. We’re currently at a regional average of 80 ppb.
No EPA or state order will be overseeing the implementation of new controls on major sources affecting DFW air quality like the Midlothian cement kilns, East Texas coal plants or gas patch facilities, or action of any kind. Citizens will probably have to sue to get the EPA to even reject the state plan now – something it was already on the public record saying it was ready to do prior to November 20th. That rejection will, however, only trigger a rewrite by Austin. 14 million DFW lungs are now trapped by a vicious cycle of inaction that both the state and federal government are fueling.
Other attempts by the Administration to attack the efficacy of the Agency are more structural. Seemingly with no more than spite as a motivation, there was a report circulating last month the Chicago regional EPA office would be shut down and consolidated with its Kansas City peer, with a corresponding cut in staff and resources. That’s not likely to happen for a variety of reasons, but it shows the kind of opportunistic thinking driving Agency opponents to start a fire sale. This Administration will probably not withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, but it can be successful in blunting any EPA attempt at actual environmental protection.
That’s why it’s important not to let the opportunists at the Trump EPA win the day. We need to make sure they get a loud and clear message not to mess with the Clean air Act or anything else. Don’t hesitate. Communicate your outrage now, where it will be counted by both sides. Thanks.
On the eve of Earth Day, clean air group Downwinders at Risk announced the purchase of two portable, EPA-calibrated ozone monitors to initiate a citizen-based monitoring campaign in Wise County this summer, where state officials refuse to measure DFW smog.
“With the purchase of these brand new high-tech monitors, which reached the market only a few months ago, we become the first group in Texas to have the capability to go out in the field and do the job the State of Texas isn’t willing to do,” said Downwinders Chair Tamera Bounds.
Downwinders newest technology will be on display at this weekend’s Earth Day Texas at Fair Park, where it’ll be a featured part of the group’s information booth. Each monitor cost approximately $5,000, fits in the palm of your hand, and comes with EPA-certified calibration to ensure reliable readings.
Wise County became the newest member of DFW’s almost-30 year “non-attainment” area for smog, or ozone pollution, in 2012. But despite computer models showing the County having some of the highest smog levels North Texas, there’s still no smog monitor located there.
Surprisingly, EPA regulations don’t require even a single ozone monitor in every non-attainment county, and Wise County is the only one of the ten DFW non-attainment counties not to have one. Bounds and her fellow clean air activists don’t believe that’s a coincidence.
Currently the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) picks the sites where smog monitors are located. Denton’s airport monitor has recorded the highest levels of smog in DFW the last few years. But because of wind direction and its large number of pollution sources, computer models predict even higher levels of smog in Wise County.
That’s important because the size and scope of local clean air plans are determined by how high or low smog readings are in North Texas. The higher the smog levels, the more cuts in pollution from coal plants, cement kilns, and gas industry facilities are required to comply with the Clean Air Act.
Not surprisingly, spoke persons for those industries claim such cuts aren’t needed, but the state has made the same claims despite evidence from their own computer models showing new controls could bring the area into compliance with the Clean Air Act for the first time since 1991. TCEQ also takes the position, contrary to the medical consensus, that smog isn’t bad for public health.
Bounds believes the TCEQ doesn’t want a smog monitor in Wise County precisely because it’d record even higher levels of the pollution than current monitors are picking up and trigger regulatory requirements to make bigger cuts.
“By not measuring smog in the place it’s predicted to be the worst, what we don’t know is hurting us,” she explained.
“Because TCEQ’s priority is to protect a handful of industrial polluters at the expense of seven million DFW residents we’re getting clean air plans based on one, rosier set of numbers, while the actual pollution levels are probably higher. That’s one reason why we’ve been in continual violation of the Clean air Act since 1991.”
Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck said the two monitors, and others the group is buying, would be used both in stand-alone stationary locations within the County and by vehicle and drone -based platforms. They can be adapted to provide wireless connections and be plugged-in to larger networks of citizen-based monitors – something already being designed by a consortium of local universities, municipalities, and citizen groups co-founded by Downwinders.
Besides giving the public and policymakers a more realistic view of DFW smog levels, Downwinders hope to put pressure on the EPA and the State to place one or more official ozone monitors in Wise County. Schermbeck said the group’s efforts at identifying patterns or hotspots in the County would help clean air advocates find the best place to put such a monitor.
Although the purchased monitors only arrived on the market in January, Downwinders’ Wise County Ozone Project has been over a year in planning.
It was as last year’s Earth Day Texas that Downwinders won a $3000 prize with its proposal to use small electronic air sensors combined with drone technology to provide better air pollution measurements across DFW. Wise County smog was one of the specific examples used in the presentation.
Downwinders used the Earth Day Texas funding as seed money to attract other support to fund its own North Texas CLEAN Air Force – a citizen science campaign whose first target is Wise County smog. With the purchase of the monitors, it’s believed to be the only citizens’ group in the state with the ability to independently measure ozone pollution with its own devices, much less with EPA-calibrated instruments.
Schermbeck says the group is looking to recruit both researchers who want to lend their professional help to the project, and those people who just want to help do their part in a local fight for cleaner air.“ Sadly, this is what it’s come down to in 2017 Texas: residents having to organize themselves into performing basic public health functions usually carried out by their state government.”
Somewhere deep in the cubicled bowels of the Region 6 EPA offices in downtown Dallas lies a draft of a letter to the State of Texas telling Austin it’s proposed clean air plan for DFW is inadequate and must be re-written.
It likely goes through the litany of well-known public objections the EPA has about the plan, originally expressed while it was being drafted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:
- The state’s computer air modeling’s predictions of drops in pollution are “unrealistic.”
- The state’s plan doesn’t do anything about pollution from the old East Texas coal plants despite evidence “strongly supporting” the link between their poisons and DFW smog.
- Air quality monitors in the gas patch are lagging behind other DFW area monitors in showing decreases in smog over the last decade, indicating pollution from gas patch facilities is slowing air quality progress, but the state’s plan doesn’t reduce it either.
- Despite a brand new state-of-the-art pollution control system that could cut smog pollution by 70-90% being voluntarily installed at one cement kiln in Midlothian, the state is not requiring the other three kilns install the same technology.
Which is all longhand for “this plan is not cutting enough air pollution to work.”
The current standard for smog, or ozone pollution, is 75 parts per billion over an eight hour period. That’s supposed to come down to 70 in the next few years as a new, more protective federal standard is applied.
DFW’s eight hour average is 80 parts per billion at the start of this “ozone season.” (based on the numbers coming out of the Denton air quality monitor) The North Texas region has never been in compliance with the smog standard, even when it was 120 parts per billion over just an hour. That’s 26 years of bad air and counting.
The state’s plan is supposed to be response to this problem, but for the second time in a row, Texas has written an air plan for DFW that does nothing at all.
Before November, that plan was going to be rejected, in part, or whole, as insufficient by EPA, sent back to Austin for a re-write and then, fingers crossed, Downwinders and others were hoping to persuade the Agency to substitute its own federal plan of action. That would have been a first for DFW.
In December, Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel, Dallas Council member Sandy Greyson, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, staff representing Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey, members of the Dallas County Medical Society and Downwinders members all pleaded with EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry to try and persuade him to reject the state plan and implement a federal one before Inauguration Day.
Curry’s response was to say that timeline was too fast – despite having had the state plan in-house at EPA for over a year, and access to its conclusion for even longer. Plus, he said reassuringly, they’d all gone through “transitions” from one administration to another. Everything would be all right.
Donald Trump will not be able to revive the coal industry. He will not be able to revoke President Obama’s climate change policies en masse without court fights. Meta national and international trends are beyond his gutted EPA’s reach to impact. But he can keep seven million DFW residents from breathing safe and legal air for the next decade.
Right now, the state clean air plan for DFW is still parked at EPA. Because of the change in administrations, the staff is probably being told to do the math twice and make only the most conservative calls. That may mean rejecting only certain parts of the plan, albeit critical ones, like the section that promises to get down to 75 ppb by the end of this summer.
Yes, that was the original goal of the plan way back when it started being put together in 2014-15. If we have another cooler, wetter summer it’s possible we could get close. If we have a typical DFW summer, the smog might get worse, as it did the last time a state clean air plan that did nothing was being implemented in 2011.
Besides rejecting the “attainment” part of the attainment plan, the EPA could also reject the way the state defined new control technologies as impractical or too costly despite being widely used in industry. One example is electrification of compressors in the gas patch. Even the gas and oil’s industry’s own textbooks cite this one simple switch in power sources, from diesel or gas to electricity to power huge, locomotive size pipeline compressors, as being the standard fix in metropolitan areas with bad air.
But the state’s rejecting requiring electrification because it says it just isn’t practical to expect that those compressors can find power close enough to the grid to plug-in….in the fourth largest urban area in the country.
Another example are the three Midlothian cement plants, still the single largest sources of air pollution in DFW.
One cement plant operator has voluntarily installed what’s considered to be a state-of-the art pollution control system that’s capable of reducing smog-forming emissions by 70-90%. This system is also being used with great effect in Europe on almost a dozen plants. But the state’s plan doesn’t take note of this sea-change in technology and doesn’t require the other three cement plants in Midlothian to install it, saying it hasn’t been proven yet – even though it’s in full scale operation in a Texas cement kiln right now.
But while the local EPA staff may have felt more confident about making those calls on new pollution controls in a Clinton administration, it’s unlikely they’ll advocate for them now, knowing their new bosses in DC will not approve.
So they’ll put a big’ ol “REJECT” stamp on the state’s paperwork and and send it back to Austin for a redo.
From where it will never see the light of day again.
Officially, when the EPA rejects a state clean air plan, it triggers a two-year deadline to come up with another one. So normally, the state would go through the motions and eventually churn out another plan, it would be found inadequate by EPA again, the whole thing would wind up in court and either the EPA and/or environmentalists would win some concessions.
But the EPA is transitioning from one smog standard to another. There’s a gap in enforcement of the old standard to get ready for the new one. So the State of Texas, which hasn’t even tried to write a serious clean air plan in decade, and doesn’t even believe smog is bad for you, will get a Mulligan from the EPA for not being able to produce a clean air plan for DFW that works.
Not only will the state of Texas not be penalized for writing an ineffective clean air plan, but if DFW is still not in compliance with the older 75 ppb smog standard by the end of this summer, it won’t be penalized for that either. Because now the EPA is switching over to the 70 ppb standard – and there are brand new deadlines for brand new clean air plans….for the State of Texas to willfully ignore.
Greg Abbott will not be punished for ignoring the law. The Texas Legislature will not be punished. Nobody at TCEQ will pay a price for once again not doing their job.
No, the only people being punished for the state’s aggressive neglect of its air are DFW’s residents, who must breathe the results of that neglect for almost half of every year now. Make no mistake about it, it’s a statistical certainty that neglect is killing people and making them sick. Dr. Robert Haley’s landmark study using the state and EPA’s own data shows that number could be as high as 100 victims a year.
Now add a Trump EPA to the mix.
DFW is not in compliance with the current/old 75 ppb smog standard. The Texas plan to get it in compliance is inadequate. The leftover Obama EPA will say so and send it back to Austin. The state will sit on the plan six months, then resubmit it. A Trump EPA will now find this previously inadequate plan quite adequate, even if the region still isn’t in compliance with the old standard.
But wait, there’s more.
You’d think a region in continual non-compliance with the Clean Air Act for almost three decades would be a priority for receiving an effective clean air plan. You’d be wrong.
In fact, since DFW average is currently 80 ppb of smog, and not 81 ppb, the state of Texas does not even have to submit a clean air plan for DFW until AFTER the region fails to meet the new 70 ppb standard by 2020, at which point Texas will have two more years to write another plan that does nothing.
This is how 80,000 votes spread over three Midwestern states can poison the air for seven million Texans.
The one thing that could throw a wrench into this scenario? Court cases filed by environmentalists to make sure EPA doesn’t allow backsliding in DFW air quality. But that is a very thin green line on which your lungs can pin hope, and it will always be after the barn door has already been left for too long.
We’ve gone from being on the precipice of what would have been the first real pollution reduction plan for DFW in a decade, to now looking at a decade of no action at all outside that which we can generate as citizens defending ourselves. In 2017, Environmental protection in Texas is very much a Do-It-Yourself proposition.
As the region’s only group charged with the job of protecting our air, Downwinders is looking at starting from scratch and reassessing our strategy. We have to find new ways to leverage our need for safe and legal air. We worked hard for over three years to win a good air plan. Now it’s back to the drawing boards.
One of the things we’re putting a lot of effort and money into building is our own independent air quality monitoring network. There are only 20 smog monitors for all of North Texas, half of which are used in rural areas for boundary readings. There are no smog monitors in Wise County, despite all the computer models showing it to be where the highest levels of the pollution are probably located.
If we can do a better job of documenting bad air, we make the case for why we need more actions to reduce air pollution, instead of do-nothing plans from Austin.
Holcim is the first cement plant in the nation to voluntarily install an industrial catalytic converter called SCR on its smokestack, significantly cutting smog-forming air pollution in DFW.
But despite operating only 26 miles from EPA headquarters, the Agency and State of Texas still claim the technology isn't "feasible"
Downwinders is proud to announce Midlothian's Holcim cement plant is the first in the nation to voluntarily install pollution control equipment significantly cutting smog-forming air pollution, along with other dangerous emissions.
"Not many people may notice, but Friday is a big day for air breathers in DFW, as well as for everyone in the country who lives downwind of a cement plant," said Tamera Bounds, Chair of Downwinders at Risk, the clean air group that's been relentless in its pursuit of the technology for North Texas since 2001.
Friday marks the official deadline for Holcim's Midlothian cement plant to have its Selective Catalytic Reduction, or SCR system, up and running on one of its two giant kilns in order to be compliant with EPA emissions limits.
Although almost a dozen cement plants in Europe have installed the technology over the last twenty years and it's widespread in the American coal industry, Holcim is so far the only cement plant in the U.S. to install SCR on one of its kilns without a government mandate.
A pilot test using SCR at Midwest cement plant was required by a Department of Justice enforcement action in 2010. Results show smog-forming pollution was cut by at least 80% – roughly twice as much as pollution controls now in use in the US, including Midlothian. In Europe, SCR has a track record of removing 80-90% or more of the smog-forming pollution that has kept DFW in violation of the Clean Air Act since 1991. It also cuts the emissions of air toxics, particulate matter, and dioxins by double-digits.
With three cement plants and four kilns, Midlothian hosts the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the US, and the largest "stationary" sources of air pollution in DFW. Since the late 1980's, the city has become a national battleground over cement plant pollution. First, over the use of hazardous waste as "fuel" for the local kilns, then over the closing of dirtier, obsolete "wet" kilns contributing to smog and climate change, and now over how fast new kilns can be updated to reflect 21st technology. ￼
Bounds and others say the installation of SCR on all four kilns in Midlothian would mean a huge benefit to public health for residents in Tarrant County, where the predominant winds push the plumes from the kilns. A 2009 Cook Children's Hospital study showed childhood asthma levels highest directly downwind of the cement kilns.
The demand for the technology is a central part of the group's push to replace the current State-sponsored anti-smog plan with a more effective, and protective, one from EPA. So far, Dallas County, the City of Dallas, two Congressional Representatives and a State Legislator agree with them. But incredibly, the Agency maintains the SCR technology Holcim has freely invested in to reduce pollution and is already operating less than 30 miles from its regional headquarters is not "technically feasible."
Downwinders and other groups in the DFW Clean Air Network regional alliance are challenging EPA's refusal to recognize a game-changing pollution control technology that could help DFW finally put its smog problems behind it a well as offering similar help to other parts of the country downwind of cement plants.
"It's rare these days to find the EPA embracing Texas' approach to ignoring advances in environmental science, but that's exactly what happening," said Bounds. "Both State and EPA officials are acting like 3rd Graders – closing their eyes and humming loudly, pretending this time-tested technology isn't operating right in front of them. But it does, and it's here to stay."
Bounds wants the EPA to take note of the cuts in pollution triggered by Holcim's operation of its SCR system and then hold ALL the Midlothian plants to the same modern standard. "You have a piece of equipment that is setting a higher bar for pollution control. Every cement kiln in DFW should have to meet that higher bar now. No other anti-pollution strategy makes sense."
It's been a long and circuitous route to getting SCR installed in a Midlothian cement kiln. Along the way, the region's clean air activists moved the entire nation closer to widespread use of this control technology.
North Texans first heard about the use of SCR in the cement industry through a citizens group fighting a proposed new cement plant in New York state in 2001.They'd commissioned a study from a NYC engineering firm identifying European cement plants that had already successfully installed the technology.
Downwinders tried and failed to include SCR in the anti-smog plan in 2003. It then used a 2005 settlement agreement with the State over the failure of that plan to get the then Rick Perry-controlled Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to perform an independent assessment of the technology. That landmark study produced results that are still reverberating today. In it, five independent experts chosen by Downwinders, the cement industry, and the State declared SCR to be ready for prime time.
"SCR is a commercially available technology. It offers the possibility of significant NOx reduction at the plants in Ellis County. As an 'add on' technology, which can achieve 90% or greater NOx reduction, with demonstrated performance at hundreds of coal fired power plants, SCR is a viable technology that is available for both dry and wet kilns."
That conclusion, from cement industry experts, in a TCEQ study, is now a decade old.
At the same time they were working to bring SCR to Midlothian, Downwinders also led the fight for new EPA emission limits on cement kilns that burn hazardous waste. A 2009 national hearing at DFW Airport attracted over 200 people. Those emission limits clamped down on air toxics. Holcim couldn't meet them without adding controls. They choose an SCR unit on one kiln and a thermal oxidizer (re: flame) on the other to try and stay in compliance. Even though Holcim installed SCR to address air toxics, or Volatile Organic Compounds and not smog pollution, the effect on emissions will be the same.
Meanwhile, the 2006 TCEQ study and subsequent push by Downwinders for SCR in Midlothian helped persuade the EPA to require the pilot test in 2010. That test, as well as Holcim's experience in Europe, set the stage for SCR's official debut on the Texas prairie on Friday.
"It's been a long fight, but change is hard," said Bounds, "and it doesn't happen in a straight line."
Help Us Celebrate This Victory That Was 15 Years in the Making
Please consider contributing $25 or more on "GIVING DAY" NEXT THURSDAY to keep us on the front lines of change another 15 years.
Giving Day is an all day online giving event sponsored by the Communities Foundation of Texas.
Downwinders will have our own online Giving Day page where you can click and give from 6 am through 12 Midnight next Thursday.
Every contribution of $25 or more is matched or extended by the Foundation.
This year, we need your support to keep our full-time staff in the field, as well as fund our 2nd annual Root and Branch Revue for activists, and assemble our North Texas Clean Air Forceof air-monitoring drones.
Oh yeah, we're also opening a school for organizers in January.
We're based in DFW. All our board members are from DFW. Our priority is DFW air. Your contribution stays in North Texas to fund the fight for clean air in North Texas.
We know you're being assaulted by Giving Day appeals from all the local non-profits, and there are lots and lots of good causes. We only request that you ask yourself how many other local groups can repeatedly pull off meaningful victories with so few resources?
We were able to bring SCR to Midlothian with your help. We need your help again next Thursday. We think we've earned it.
State Representative Chris Turner, whose District 101 spans west Grand Prairie and east Arlington between Dallas and Fort Worth became the first state elected official to urge EPA to reject the current state anti-smog plan for DFW and substitute one of its own.
In a letter to EPA Chief Gina McCarthy, Turner used language echoing the sentiments of US Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Marc Veasey.
"While I hope that the TCEQ will take the public comments it received by EPA, the Texas Medical Association, and others into consideration and require additional emissions controls in the final SIP revision it submits to EPA, I ask you to consider rejecting the state's plan use of a Federal Implementation Plan if your agency decides that the final SIP revision is insufficient and the state will not negotiate in good faith."
The entire letter can be read here.
Besides Johnson and Veasey's letters, Dallas County and the City of Dallas have voted in favor of resolutions condemning the currently proposed plan has being inadequate. More cities and counties are expected to pass similar resolutions as elected bodies come back from summer breaks.
Members of the DFW Clean Air Network (DFW CAN) – Downwinders at Risk, the Sierra Club, Beyond Coal, the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Mansfield Gas Well Awareness and Livable Arlington – are also out and about obtaining letters like Turner's from other state and federal elected officials.
Turner's district is directly downwind of the Midlothian cement plants and includes numerous natural gas wells and facilities. Gas sources are now the fourth largest contributor to DFW smog.
According to EPA, the state plan arrived at the EPA's doorstep August 8th, but it's already DOA.
Although ozone season is far from over and it's been a relatively mild "season" so far, we know in its second full year out of the three years allotted for success, the state air plan will, at best, have brought down ozone levels by 1 ppb from 2015 levels, to 80 ppb. We're supposed to be at 75.
The parrot is dead. We're just waiting for the state to admit it – or the EPA to shut the farce down.
Meanwhile, the more political support on the ground in DFW for an EPA alternative that might actually reduce emissions from major sources in North Texas like gas, cement kilns, and coal plants, the more likely it is for the Agency to accept the challenge, and endure all the pushback from Austin it'll get if it decides to take over the job.
If you're interested in trying to get your city, county, or state or federal elected officials to join the band wagon and reject the state plan, write or call us and we'll work with you in getting something accomplished that can add to the momentum.