Environment & Science

Cement pollution gets airing in Southern California

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Pollution limits for cement factories got an airing in the Southland Tuesday. KPCC’s Molly Peterson says the federal Environmental Protection Agency's hoping to establish rules almost two decades after first proposing them.

Molly Peterson: Proposed regulation would limit smog-forming emissions, force cement makers to measure mercury releases for the first time, and lower limits on toxic waste from the plants. Lawsuits and petitions have held up tougher rules through three presidencies and 19 years. The California Environmental Rights Alliance's Joe Lyou says that’s too long.

Joe Lyou: We all recognize how important concrete and cement is to everyday life. We can't live without it, obviously. And it's also a very energy intensive and high polluting industry just from the nature of what has to be done. What we're doing here is trying to come up with the best way to do it.

Peterson: Five cement plants that employ about 100 people each dot the Inland Empire and Mojave regions. The Portland Cement Association’s Andy O’Hare says these and other factories may not be able to meet lower pollution limits with current technology. And if demand rises, he says domestic markets may have to buy cement from Venezuela, Thailand, or China.

Andy O'Hare: We want to be in a circumstance where we can provide cement domestically rather than encourage the offshoring of the industry. So we definitely want to produce cement in the U.S. in as environmentally safe and secure way as possible, on the one hand. On the other hand, we’d hate to see those jobs go away as well.

Peterson: Public comment on the rules continues through the fall. If the EPA approves them, they’ll take effect in four years – when O’Hare predicts that industries that need cement will have recovered from the recession.