A federal court rejected the Portland Cement Association’s attempt to repeal EPA regulations that place limitations on pollutants emitted from cement kilns Friday, Dec. 9.
The Portland Cement Association (PCA) is a lobbying group that represents cement companies nationwide. Titan America CEO Aris Papdopoulos is the chairman of the association.
The Southern Environmental Law Center represented three local environmental entities—Cape Fear Riverwatch, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, and PenderWatch and Conservancy—before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The case brought before the court by the cement association stemmed from two sets of regulations that the EPA instituted in the fall of 2010. The new rules set boundaries for hazardous air pollutants and conventional air pollutants.
"This is really the first time that the EPA put meaningful air pollution reduction standards in place and so keeping those standards is important for public health and for anyone who is near a cement plant," said Geoff Gisler, a staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. "If Titan is able to build a cement plant [in New Hanover County], then these will provide significant protections."
In 2010, the EPA identified Portland cement kilns as the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the United States.
The PCA claimed that the EPA did not complete a thorough analysis of the cement industry and had set standards for hazardous air pollution that were not appropriate or achievable.
The court agreed with the PCA that the EPA did not correctly determine which cement kilns would be used as a basis for the new limits, Gisler explained.
The EPA contended that even if they complied with the PCA’s request, the regulations for hazardous pollutants would be just as strict, if not stricter. The court concluded that the EPA’s regulations should remain intact.
Hazardous air pollutants include mercury, hydrochloric acid and fine particulate matter.
As for conventional pollutants, which include soot, sulfur dioxide and nitrous dioxide, the court again rejected the PCA’s request for repeal.
"I think in a lot of ways it kind of backs up what we have been saying from the start, that cement plants cold do a lot better job cleaning up their act," said Kemp Burdette, Riverkeeper at Cape Fear Riverwatch, "and I think they could go a lot further than they have."
Several environmental organizations separate from the New Hanover County groups requested that the EPA set standards for greenhouse gas emissions. The court was unable to hear their case because the EPA had not made a final action in regard to greenhouse gas emissions, Gisler said.
Titan complied with the new EPA regulations in their revised 2011 draft air permit, but only to the lowest extent possible, Gisler said.
"They are still proposing to build the dirtiest plant that is allowable under them," he said. "Had this challenge succeeded, had these rules been taken back, then it could have opened up a possibility of the company going back and revising its application to request permission to emit more pollutants."
The EPA estimates that there will be major reductions in emissions once the regulations are fully implemented in 2013. At that time, the EPA expects mercury emissions to decrease by 92 percent and fine particulate matter to decrease by 92 percent. Hydrochloric acid emissions are estimated to drop by 97 percent.
Conventional pollutants sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are expected to diminish by 78 percent and 5 percent respectively.
In 2010 the EPA stated that the cost for improving Portland cement kilns would range from $926 million to $950 million annually in 2013. They claimed that the improvements would translate into $6.7 billion to $18 billion in health and environmental benefits.