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EPA Holds Air Pollution Hearings In Dallas Today

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By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-843665.mp3

Dallas, TX –

Dallas is one of 3 cities nationwide where the Environmental Protection Agency is hearing from citizens about tough new pollution rules for cement plants. Collecting national testimony here represents a first for the region. Officials are in Dallas because nearby Midlothian holds the largest concentration of cement kilns in the country. KERA's Bill Zeeble has more

In a hotel ball room, the cement industry will claim new EPA emissions rules are too harsh and could put them out of business. Environmentalists, like Jim Schermbeck, with Down Winders At Risk, will say our air is still too dirty by EPA standards, in part because of north Texas cement kilns.

Jim Schermbeck, environmentalist: They're the largest industrial polluters in the area bar none. They're responsible for huge amounts of pollution every year.

Schermbeck says the plants are not using the cleanest technology they can. While they've reduced some emissions up to 40 percent, he says they could double that, but won't make the pricey changes. Activists also say cement kilns are among the nation's largest mercury polluters, and for the first time, the EPA's new rules would restrict mercury emissions from cement plants. There would also be new rules for hydrochloric acid and other cement kiln pollutants. During a visit to Dallas last week, EPA Chief Lisa Jackson said the Obama Administration is trying to clean pollution the Bush Administration left behind.

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: There are allegations of political influence over scientific decisions, over regulatory decisions. The easiest way to address people's concerns is to open up the doors and to give people an opportunity to comment. That cement kiln permit hearing will deal with really important issues particular here in Texas. We have an air quality issue that needs to be addressed.

Cement industry representative Andy O'Hare says his clients take their environmental impact seriously. And they've been working to reduce emissions now for 9 years. But he says the EPA's new emissions standards could be fatal to the industry.

Andy O'Hare, Vice President, Portland Cement Association: Whether or not any existing facilities in U.S. can actually achieve what the EPA has proposed, we're concerned it may not be doable.

O'Hare says the industry is vital to rebuilding the nation's failing infrastructure, and calls cement an essential commodity. He says if EPA standards get tougher, some operations could just move offshore where pollution rules are lax.

O'Hare: We hope to avoid that by working with the EPA, of course. But that could be a consequence if the rule goes forward as proposed, at least from our current assessment of the impact. And we would hate to see that.

O'Hare says up to 30 percent of the nation's cement is already imported. And more could be. Jim Schermbeck doesn't buy it. He says the price of fuel will not drop significantly, and it costs a lot to ship tons and tons of heavy cement for big construction projects. That's why growing cities around the country are ringed by plants that ship cement to nearby construction sites. He says today's EPA hearing could be lively. O'Hare will be there too.

Email Bill Zeeble