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.
EPA has released the results of the first test of a full-scale Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) unit on a US cement plant and the numbers look good.
As many of you know, SCR is just an industrial-sized version of the catalytic converter in your car. It can capture up to 90% or more of the smog-forming pollution from a cement plant. In use on cement kilns since 2001, there are at least a half a dozen cement plants in Europe that use SCR successfully, but the technology has been slow to arrive in the US because of regulatory laziness and industry resistance.
But after 15 years, that's finally changing.
in 2013, LaFarge Cement entered into a consent decree with the EPA and the US Justice Department as part of a settlement over a string of environmental violations, including excessive smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOX) emissions. As part of that settlement, Lafarge was to retrofit its Joppa, Illinois "dry process" cement kiln with an SCR unit, record its effectiveness during stack testing, and report on the results of those tests by 2015.
This last week, those results were finally made available by EPA and they show SCR was able to reduce NOx by 80%.
That's approximately twice as effective as SNCR technology, (Selective NON-Catalytic Reduction), the current pollution control device for NOx most often used in U.S. cement plants.
Moreover, according to LaFarge, "the SCR control technology performed well and no operational problem was encountered."
In fact, the control technology worked so well, LaFarge is now getting a permit from the Illinois state environmental agency to operate SCR past the EPA-mandated settlement period.
But while LaFarge is getting its SCR permit, Holcim's Midlothian cement plant has already applied and been granted one by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for construction and operation of its own SCR unit. It should be up and running by this time next year.
So that makes two U.S. cement plants with permits to run full-scale SCR units. One that was forced into the choice by EPA and now wants to keep using it, and another voluntarily adding it.
But according to the TCEQ, even though it gave a permit to Holcim to install SCR, and even though Holcim's SCR unit will be operational in a year, and even though the LaFarge test was a success, and even though SCR has been used for 15 years by European cement companies – SCR is "not economically or technically feasible." That's exactly what the Commission said in response to comments from both citizens and the EPA in its new clean air plan for DFW a couple of months ago.
That's right. One the one hand the Commission has granted a permit to Holcim to build an SCR unit in its own backyard, and on the other it's still calling the technology infeasible. It's the stuff of Monty Python sketches.
And that's not all. There is no mention of the Holcim Cement SCR permit in the TCEQ's own official arguments against SCR in its DFW clean air plan. Not one. Since Holcim's building of an SCR unit would tend to empirically disprove TCEQ's contention that the technology wasn't practical, the state just pretends it's not happening. As with climate change and smog, any facts that conflict with the pre-determined ideologically-correct premise must be ignored.
Presumably, Holcim is building the SCR unit because it's made the business judgment that the technology is not only both economically and technologically feasible, but beneficial to the company's bottom line. Presumably LaFarge is pursuing a permit for its SCR unit because it has made the same practical decision. Yet, in a strange role reversal, a Texas state government agency is now telling business it's making the wrong choices. It's overruling the industry's decision to reduce pollution through SCR use by saying "not so fast."
This is how bad its gotten: the Texas approach to clean air is now so backwards that the cement industry is more aggressive about reducing pollution than Austin.
So how many U.S. cement plants have to be operating with SCR before the State of Texas concludes it's a feasible technology? Two? Four? A Dozen?
Fortunately, the TCEQ isn't the last word on this. The Clean Air Act says any and all reasonably available technology must be used on major pollution sources like the Midlothian cement plants when a clean air plan is being drafted. TCEQ hasn't done that. We think they're breaking the law. There are signs that EPA thinks so as well.
EPA is ultimately in charge of enforcing the Clean Air Act, and if it doesn't do it correctly, then the courts step in.
The best hope for safe and legal air in DFW is for EPA to rigorously enforce the law. The State of Texas will not do so. If you agree then please take a minute to:
1) sign this petition to EPA
2) Send this e-mail to EPA
There's a public meeting hosted by TCEQ at 7pm tonight concerning the new permit for Holcim's Midlothian cement plant. It's taking place at the Midlothian Conference Center, at 1 community Center Road, right off Hwy 287. Here's a map if you need one.
This is your only chance to ask questions and raise concerns about Holcim's new permit, or any other aspect of Holcim operations in a public forum in 2014.
Remember that Holcim's pollution contributes to higher smog levels as far north as Denton and Wise Counties. Along with TXI and Ash Grove, its plumes have been associated with higher childhood asthmarates in southeast Tarrant County.
Holcim is also still the only Midlothain cement plant still blasting for rock. The others use machinery to mine limestone, Holcim uses ammonium nitrate, the same explosives that caused the West, Texas catastrophe.
The good news is that Holcim has decided to install Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) pollution control on one of their two large cement kilns. That's what the new permit mostly is about. Although well-known for reducing smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) in the European cement industry, Holcim is using it to reduce Total Hydrocarbons – a category of pollutionthat includes toluene, benzene, and xylene.
You can read about how important a victory SCR is for all DFW breathers here. It's been a 15 year effort. Holcim's decision to install SCR should be celebrated.
But important questions remain about when the SCR unit will become operational and how reductions in airpollution like NOx will be tracked by the company.
SCR is only being installed on one of two Holcim kilns in Midlothian. The other kiln is getting a "Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer" – the equivalent of a flare on a gas well – to burn off its total Hydrocarbons.
Because they're combustion-based, RTOs increase NOx pollution. How much, and how Holcim can catch that increase before it goes up the stack is alsothe subject of the permit.
The public meeting on Monday is not a hearing. But it is the only public forum where citizens can thank Holcim for finally installing SCR, as well as express their concerns and ask questions about the permit.
We know it's a busy time of year, and it's the day before Election Day, but do your lungs a favor and attend a meeting about a permit that can affect them for good or bad.