Cement, glass firms agree to add pollution controls

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 21, 2010 

WASHINGTON — For the first time in the history of the Clean Air Act, the federal government has reached settlements that will require a glassmaker and a cement company to add pollution controls at all their plants across the country.

Lafarge, the nation's second largest maker of Portland cement, and Saint-Gobain Containers, the second largest manufacturer of glass containers for beverages and foods in the U.S., agreed to add up-to-date pollution control devices, accept emissions limits and pay penalties to settle complaints that they violated the law.

There have been similar company-wide settlements for air pollution violations for coal-fired power plants, the largest source of air pollution, but this was the first such settlement in the cement and glass sectors, which also rank near the top as big pollution sources.

The settlement will require the companies to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. The pollutants are known to trigger asthma and other respiratory problems, contribute to heart disease, cause acid rain and damage water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency has targeted coal plants, oil refiners, and cement and glassmakers for enforcement of air pollution rules known as "new source review," which require companies to add modern pollution controls when they expand or upgrade.

Saint-Gobain said in a statement that the company denied the Clean Air Act violations, but added, "we are nonetheless pleased to work with the EPA as the first glass container company to come to agreement under their glass enforcement initiative."

Lafarge North America also did not acknowledge any violations, but said in a statement that the settlement was a result of the Justice Department and EPA's "belief that one or more Lafarge cement plants made historic modifications without necessary permit review." The permit review process ensures that companies that upgrade their plants install the necessary pollution controls.

"The settlement represents for Lafarge a complete and expeditious resolution of issues under the Clean Air Act which Lafarge has sought to address in a proactive and cooperative manner with the DOJ and EPA," the statement said.

Sylvain Garnaud, president of Lafarge North America's Cement Division, said: "Lafarge North America remains firm in its belief that it has operated its plants in an environmentally responsible manner and in compliance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act. That said, we also firmly believe that industry leaders like Lafarge have to work with local, state and federal authorities to find solutions to the most challenging problems. Agreements like this one, and the actions we will undertake pursuant to this agreement, demonstrate that we want our plants to continue to minimize emissions to the atmosphere as much as possible."

The settlements will reduce pollution that threatens the health of millions of Americans, said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

"It's time for the other cement and glass manufacturers to step up and comply with the law," she said.

Disputes about new source review have been settled in the courts, and the law is clear, said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.

"We are prepared to litigate aggressively. Nonetheless, we believe the far better course for all concerned is to negotiate effective settlements," she said.

She said she couldn't discuss other pending cases.

Keri Powell, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice who's worked on pollution issues in the cement industry, said the settlement was "hugely significant because up until now cement plants have largely escaped serious air pollution requirements."

Cement plants also are one of the largest sources of mercury pollution. The pollutant settles in water and accumulates in fish at levels toxic to humans. The settlement didn't address mercury pollution. EPA, however, is working on a stronger rule for mercury and other air toxics.

Powell said that U.S. cement plants tend to be old facilities with very little pollution control equipment. The settlement covers 13 of the largest plants.

Lafarge North America, part of a company headquartered in France, has facilities in Seattle; Atlanta; Whitehall, Pa.; Ravena, N.Y.; Calera, Ala.; Harleyville, S.C.; Paulding, Ohio; Alpena, Mich.; Tulsa, Okla.; Sugar Creek, Mo.; Buffalo, Iowa; Fredonia, Kan.; and Grand Chain, Ill.

The EPA said in a statement that Lafarge and two subsidiaries would install the pollution controls at a cost of about $170 million.

Among the types of pollution controls the two companies agreed to install were selective catalytic reduction systems. This will be the first time that this type of control will be installed at a U.S. cement or container glass plant. Giles said it was "a very important first for each of these industries" because the equipment is 90 percent effective in removing nitrogen oxide pollution.

Saint-Gobain Containers, whose parent company also is based in France, will install equipment expected to cost $112 million at 13 plants in 13 states.

The 13 plants are in Burlington, Wis.; Dolton and Lincoln, Ill.; Dunkirk, Ind.; Henderson, N.C.; Madera, Calif.; Milford, Mass.; Pevely, Mo.; Port Allegany, Pa.; Ruston, La.; Sapulpa, Okla.; Seattle; and Wilson, N.C.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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