Support is building in Congress for legislation that would delay and weaken long-planned regulation of the cement industry.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, both Pennsylvania Republicans, are the latest to call on the Environmental Protection Agency to delay emissions rules that have been in the works for 13 years.
5-Year Delay Sought
Dent has added his name to H.R. 2681, introduced July 28 by Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK) and co-sponsored by 10 lawmakers: eight Republicans and Democrats Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia.
|U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (left) and U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, both Pennsylvania Republicans, say the cement industry cannot afford the regulations.|
Sullivan’s “Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011” would postpone implementation of the EPA’s “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants from the Portland Cement Manufacturing Industry and Standards of Performance for Portland Cement Plants” and two other emissions rules for five years. Well before then, EPA would be forced to rewrite the rules.
The measure is now before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
EPA published the final cement rule in September 2010; companies have until September 2013 to comply.
EPA says the rule would save up to 2,500 lives; 130,000 lost work days; 750,000 days of restricted activity; and billions of dollars in health-care costs and lost productivity.
Dent and Sullivan dispute those benefits. They say the regulations could cut the capacity of the domestic cement industry by 20 percent.
“I'm not aware that there is a plant in America that can comply with all of these rules,” Dent told the Reading (PA) Eagle last week. Dent says his Lehigh Valley district is the nation's largest cement-producing district. “We can't afford to lose any more jobs at a time like this.”
On July 27, Toomey and 24 senators—22 of them Republican—wrote a letter to U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in support of a Senate bill similar to Sullivan’s.
“Cement is the key ingredient in concrete, the foundation of American infrastructure,” the letter said. “The U.S. cement industry is suffering through its greatest decline since the 1930s, with current employment down to a mere 15,000 high-wage jobs and less than $6.5 billion in 2009 annual revenues.”
Toomey said in a statement: “If Congress does not act, the new regulations may impact almost 2,000 workers in 11 different cement plants across Pennsylvania, with seven of these plants located in the Allentown [PA] area alone.”
New Kiln Restrictions
The EPA rule marks the first time the federal government has restricted mercury emissions from existing cement kilns. The regulations aim to reduce the annual emissions of mercury and particulate matter by 92 percent, hydrochloric acid by 97 percent, and sulfur dioxide by 78 percent.
Andy O'Hare, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Portland Cement Association, told the Allentown Morning Call that the new rules would cost the nation’s 100 cement plants about $3.4 billion.
Plants have been running well below capacity since 2007, and at least 18 plants will close before 2013 because they can't comply with the new rule, O’Hare said.
O’Hare said he was not trying to stop the rule, just delay it.
“We don't want to emit these [pollutants], believe me. We've made progress,” he told the newspaper. “Although it is a delay, and we're sorry to have to delay it, it will buy us more time. It will allow the industry and economy to recover.”
Environmentalists: ‘Huge Health Benefits’
Environmentalists say the cement industry has had plenty of time to make changes.
“Cement plants are a huge source of man-made mercury pollution and other toxic pollution in the U.S," said Emily Davis, a staff attorney at the National Resources Defense Council. “Cleaning up toxic air pollution after many years of delay will have huge health benefits for the American public.”