AIR POLLUTION:

EPA agrees to rethink parts of new cement kiln rules

U.S. EPA announced yesterday that it will reconsider some aspects of its new standards on hazardous air pollution from cement plants, but it won't delay the regulations as the cement industry had asked.

Both cement companies and environmental groups had filed petitions asking EPA to take another look at the regulations, which will limit the amount of toxic emissions that cement kilns are allowed to release into the air. In a notice signed by Administrator Lisa Jackson yesterday, the agency said it will look into some of the concerns that were raised after the package of two rules was finalized last September.

"Both rules will remain in place while EPA reconsiders these minor issues, to ensure that public health protections resulting from these rules are not delayed," the agency said. "Combined, the two rules are expected to dramatically cut harmful emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other pollutants."

EPA agreed to consider several of the cement industry's arguments, including a claim that the limits on fine particles were not done correctly. It will also consider a claim by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that the standards would not properly handle the times when a cement kiln is starting up, shutting down or malfunctioning.

Public health groups have supported most aspects of the rules, which would cost an estimated $950 million per year while preventing between 900 and 2,500 premature deaths annually, as well as 17,000 asthma outbreaks and 1,500 heart attacks, according to EPA estimates.

Because the agency decided not to place a stay on the rules, they are still set to take effect in 2013.

"The compliance deadline is still in the future, so they'll have time to do these reconsiderations, figure out what changes they're going to make and let everybody know before the industries have to comply," said David Doniger, policy director of the NRDC's climate center, in an interview yesterday.

In a parallel challenge to the rules that is working its way through federal court in Washington, D.C., environmental groups are claiming that the cement standards should include limits on greenhouse gas emissions. EPA is planning to add those limits to the New Source Performance Standards for the utility sector that are scheduled to be finalized this year.

Since the cement rules went final last year, the industry has been asking Capitol Hill to intervene. The Portland Cement Association says the rules would not cause domestic cement production to decline much, but they would cause virtually all new demand for cement to be met by imports rather than new U.S. plants (Greenwire, March 16).

Andy O'Hare, the trade group's vice president of regulatory affairs, said most of the issues being reconsidered are minor and technical. He said he is glad EPA is taking a closer look at the rules, but the agency won't reconsider the cement industry's main concern.

There is an overlap between the cement standards and a set of rules for solid waste incinerators that was published earlier this year, O'Hare said. That is a problem because the incinerator rules would require cement kilns to control a different set of pollutants and would include stricter limits on emissions such as cancer-causing dioxins and furans.

"Cement companies are being confronted with two competing regulatory deadlines, not knowing, really, which rulemaking they're going to be subject to," O'Hare said.

Click here to read the reconsideration decision.

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