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 Downwinders At Risk - Press Room: Latest Cement Plant Outrage: Citizens Catch TXI and State in Secret

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Latest Cement Plant Outrage: Citizens Catch TXI and State in Secret

Even before the company received a 10-year permit renewal from TCEQ with a promise of no increases in pollution,

it was applying for new permit to burn tires.

 And no public review is allowed.

 (Midlothian)- On the heels of a controversial April vote to deny citizens a hearing to challenge TXI's major air pollution permit, and on the eve of a national EPA hearing on cement plant pollution in DFW, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has ignited a new round of controversy about its ability to effectively regulate industry in the state.


Members of a citizens' watchdog group discovered last week that even before TCEQ's renewal of a TXI's Midlothian cement plant air pollution permit had been finalized - a permit predicated on the promise of no increases in pollution - the agency started processing a new TXI permit request to burn tires.


Moreover, by allowing TXI to claim a special "pollution control" exemption for burning the tires, the decision will not be subject to public notice, public hearings or even independent verification that TXI's emissions won't increase.


"This is what 'environmental regulation' has come to in Rick Perry's Texas: we just have to take TXI's word when it says that burning millions of tires won't result in any increases in pollution from their cement plant," said Jim Schermbeck, Field Organizer for Downiwnders at Risk.


The group's board members stumbled upon the tire-burning request by accident while following-up an appeal of the April renewal approval.  "Otherwise, only TXI and TCEQ would have ever known about this arrangement."


For an entire week the two permits passed each other in the same bureaucratic pipeline. The 10-year renewal had been awarded on the disputed assumption that emissions that TXI's would not increase. Two out of the three Perry-appointed TCEQ Commissioners said they were convinced TXI's pollution wouldn't change under it. On June 8th, the legal clock for Commissioners to take any further action on the renewal would expire.


On June 1, however, TXI submitted paperwork requesting that the TCEQ grant the company a "pollution control" exemption to burn tires at its largest and newest Midlothian kiln.


Meant to apply to real pieces of pollution control equipment like scrubbers and filters rather than changes in fuel type, this exemption means a company doesn't have to notify the public about a project, the TCEQ doesn't have to hold any hearings, and there doesn't even have to be a "test burn" to determine what the real impact to emissions will be.  "All TXI has to do is tell the TCEQ that emissions won't increase and that's the end of he story," warned Schermbeck.


He did see one advantage to the timing of the permit request - the fact that it will become fodder for a national EPA hearing on cement plant pollution rules scheduled for next week in DFW.  "This is just the latest example of why the State of Texas can't be trusted to provide basic environmental protection. But it comes less than a week before the EPA will arrive from Washington to hold a hearing on tougher new emission rules for the nation's cement plants. If people needed any additional reasons to get motivated to come and speak out at that hearing, TXI and TCEQ just gave it to them."


Because DFW has the largest concentration of cement manufacturing capacity in the country, the EPA is holding one of only three hearings on new rules proposed by the Obama Administration to crack air pollution from kilns, including the first federal limits for Mercury, next Wednesday at the Grand Hyatt at DFW International Airport from 10 am to 8 pm.


In the past, Midlothian cement plants have claimed that burning tires reduces the amount of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide they emit versus coal, and so should be considered a "pollution control" strategy in regional anti-smog plans. But test burns were always required to prove those assertions. TXI is believed to be the first plant to have its tire-burning granted an exemption from all public knowledge and review based on just the claim of reduced emissions alone.


While some kinds of pollution can decrease when tires are burned instead of coal, other kinds of pollution increase. According to Neil Carman, the Texas Sierra Club Director of Air Toxics, you could expect to see spikes in the carcinogen Benzene, carbon monoxide, certain metals like chromium and zinc, and exotic poisons such as Dioxin. The purpose of a test burn is to reveal exactly what the real impact of a change in production or fuel will be at full-scale by sampling and monitoring the emissions in a closed-loop, smaller-scale trial run. Without such a test, there is no evidence that emissions of any pollutant will decrease.


Energy costs are the largest expense of running a cement plant, and coal prices have gone up over the past several years. Burning tires reduces the amount of money TXI will have to pay for coal. It might even be able to get state subsidies for burning tires as it did for its four older "wet kilns" in 2003.  TXI received over $2 million from the State to pay for tire-burning equipment to be retrofitted on kilns that were built in the 60's and 70's. But this is the first time the company has chosen to burn tires at its newer and larger "dry kiln."


A 20-year veteran of cement plant permit fights, Schermbeck said even he was shocked to hear about TXI's tire burning request and TCEQ's complicity in insulating it from any public input. "With TCEQ these days, you quit asking "Can they really do that?" and you start asking, "What won't they do?"