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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Letter to EPA from members of Congress

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

EPA to reject Texas air permit process

The air-pollution permitting process in the nation's largest greenhouse-gas producing state does not adhere to the Clean Air Act and portions of it should be thrown out, federal regulators said Tuesday in an announcement applauded by Texas environmentalists.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed rejecting Texas' flexible permits, which allow polluters to exceed emission limits in particular areas so long as they reach an overall emissions average. The EPA also said it plans to reject other rules, including those allowing polluters to make changes at facilities without the lengthy permitting process that requires public hearings.
"Texas' air permitting program should be transparent and understandable to the communities we serve, protective of air quality, and establish clear and consistent requirements," Lawrence Starfield, the EPA's acting regional administrator for Texas, said in the statement. "These notices make clear our view that significant changes are necessary for compliance with the Clean Air Act."
Texas has major air-pollution problems, thanks to numerous coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and petrochemical plants in and around Houston, assorted other plants around the state, and millions of cars on the road. Houston and Dallas have never been within Clean Air Act requirements for ozone pollution.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality - which has long been at odds with the EPA over permitting - defended its process as a success.
"Now that the EPA has placed its cards on the table and we finally know what specific objections they have with our programs, we look forward to working with them to resolve outstanding issues," agency executive director Mark Vickery said. "We hope the EPA will consider the actual emission reductions achieved through our state programs and will continue to build on those successes."
Environmental groups have for years criticized the permitting process as a rubber stamp in a state that's friendly to industry. The state agency's commissioners have approved 97 percent of the air permits that have come before them since 1971, although TCEQ officials note that the vast majority of permits sought don't even make it to commissioners.
"We're not surprised at this and we've been pushing for this for quite some time," said Neil Carman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "Our concerns had fallen on deaf ears under the Bush administration EPA, but we have new leadership at EPA and they're taking action. This is just the beginning. The whole program has problems."
Andy Wilson, the global warming program director for the group Public Citizen, called the announcement "the day of reckoning that we've known has been coming."
The EPA's rejections are set to become final next year, after a 60-day period for public comment. In the meantime, the EPA will work with the state agency, industry and environmentalists to "quickly identify and adopt changes that will better protect air quality for all Texans."
The EPA made the announcement as the result of a lawsuit settlement forcing the agency to approve or disapprove aspects of the Texas permitting process, spokesman Dave Bary said.
States are required to enforce the federal Clean Air Act, but they're given some flexibility in how to do it. The EPA approved Texas' major clean-air permitting plan in 1992, and the state has since submitted more 30 regulatory changes.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Feds plan expanded Midlothian air pollution study after criticism of state report

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS / The Dallas Morning News 

The last time the federal government agreed to assess environmental health in Midlothian, the results weren't pretty.

A December 2007 draft report inspired recriminations, bureaucratic infighting and even a blast from the chairman of a congressional investigations panel. And people in Midlothian still didn't know if it was safe to breathe the air in North Texas' most industrialized city.

Now, federal officials have vowed to try again to answer that basic question – this time with weapons missing from the earlier effort, such as a squadron of scientists, a rigorous peer-review process and a much broader mandate.

The outcome of the new review of Midlothian, which a federal agency outlined in a letter dated May 27 to state and local officials, could be the most comprehensive look at air pollution health risks ever undertaken in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. At a minimum, it addresses criticism that past government reviews of emissions from Midlothian's three cement plants and a steel mill fell short.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will coordinate the new review, this time taking the lead. The earlier report on Midlothian's air quality was written by the Texas Department of State Health Services under a contract to the federal agency.

No timetable for the new review was available. The ATSDR official in charge of the effort, Jennifer Lyke, could not be reached Tuesday.

Midlothian resident Sal Mier, a retired CDC official who first requested federal help in evaluating the city's industrial air pollution in 2005, said the renewed federal involvement was good news.

"I'm very pleased with the investment that ATSDR is willing to making in relooking at our situation," said Mier, who has met with the agency experts assigned to the study. "I was extremely impressed with their sincerity and their willingness to look at the broader picture."

Mier and other environmental advocates branded the 2007 report by the state health department as a shallow whitewash based on insufficient data. He reiterated that view March 12 before the U.S. House Science and Technology Committee's investigative subcommittee, which held a hearing in Washington on the ATSDR's performance.

At that hearing, the panel chairman, Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., called studies such as the 2007 Midlothian review examples of "jackleg assessments" that ignored communities' environmental health concerns.

That congressional grilling apparently played a role in the ATSDR's decision to launch an expanded Midlothian review. Dr. John Villanacci, manager of the Texas health department's Environmental and Injury Epidemiology and Toxicology Branch, said the federal agency launched the new study after it "got some kind of congressional direction."

Villanacci said the new study would involve more experts seeking more types of information than his department's previous effort.

The earlier review was based almost entirely upon a health department comparison of air monitoring data, gathered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to the commission's numerical standards for airborne pollutant levels. In its letter last week, the ATSDR said, "There is much more that needs to be examined, including how the air data is generated."

The TCEQ blasted the 2007 health department report as "riddled with errors" and said it exaggerated public risk. The environmental commission says additional monitoring since December 2008 shows no public health concern.

"Our data indicate that air quality in the Midlothian area is good," the TCEQ's chief toxicologist, Dr. Michael Honeycutt, said in an e-mail response on Tuesday. "We will provide data as requested for the ATSDR study."

Local officials in Midlothian were also critical of the health department report in 2007, saying its failure to reach any conclusions had unfairly kept the city under a cloud of doubt. City Manager Don Hastings said Tuesday that he was glad the federal agency will try to provide scientifically defensible answers to questions that have plagued Midlothian for decades.

"Protecting the public health and safety and welfare is job No. 1," Hastings said. He said the community would be glad to get the results, "whatever the answer is."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

TXI's air permit renewed

Monday, April 06, 2009

TXI Air Permit Renewal

Monday, March 23, 2009

Buda cement kiln turns to alternate fuels

Buda cement kiln turning to alternate fuels
Tires, wood chips expected to help cut emissions.
By Asher Price

Friday, March 20, 2009

BUDA — From the ninth-floor catwalk of the cement kiln facility in Buda, a person can see the past and possibly the future of industrial manufacturing.

At the terminus of a rail spur sit piles of coal and petroleum coke, old-school combustibles used to heat the kiln, a metal furnace 13.5 feet in diameter and 190 feet long. Inside the furnace, limestone rock melts at temperatures up to 2,700 degrees, or nearly a quarter of that of the outermost part of the sun.

On the other side of the plant, a conveyor belt bears what the plant's environmental manager calls "green fuel," a combination of wood chips and shredded tires.

The fuel experiment is the product of the unlikely partnership of a longtime cement man and one of the founders of the Save Our Springs environmental movement. If successful, it could blaze a path for manufacturers to cut their carbon emissions and costs at the same time.

The experiment comes in one of the nation's most carbon intensive and polluting industries. Cement kilns release carbon dioxide not only in the burning of coal to heat the kiln but also through the changing of the composition of limestone. Concentrations of carbon emissions nearly double that of some coal-burning power plants.

Initial results show that if the company uses the "green fuel" to displace 20 percent of the coal burned at the facility, it says it will cut its carbon emissions by at least 20,000 tons a year, or 5 percent of its total emissions. It is burning enough to displace 10 percent of the coal.

Bob Kidnew, who has been in the cement business for 25 years and has been president of Texas Lehigh, which owns the kiln, since 2003, said he does not think humans contribute to global warming and worries that carbon regulations could cost his company money.

But with the presidential candidates touching on carbon legislation last summer, he began thinking about ways to reduce his company's carbon emissions and get an edge over competitors.

"I realized something was going to happen on climate change," he said. "I'm skeptical of the science of it, but if it becomes legislation, I've got to deal with it."

The fact that the cost of coal had tripled in the past five years, to about $100 a ton, didn't help, he said. If emissions are regulated, experts estimate that the credits required to emit carbon could range from a few dollars to $40 a ton.

Brigid Shea, an environmentalist who helped found the Save Our Springs coalition in 1991 and who was elected to the Austin City Council in 1993, approached Kidnew around that time about cutting CO2 emissions and reducing cost from the plant. Shea, along with Terry Moore, who has worked with the Sierra Club, had started Carbon Shrinks, a consulting outfit helping companies cut their carbon output.

"It's a huge wake-up call for companies to learn what's proposed under the law," Shea said.

But the cement industry, like most heavy manufacturers, has long had an antagonistic relationship with environmental groups, and even after Kidnew agreed to meet in August, at Texas Lehigh headquarters, the cement people were suspicious.

"It was a little tense," Kidnew said. "We were not sure whether they were spies, if they were seeing if we were doing something wrong."

The Buda cement kiln makes about 1.4 million tons of cement each year, or about 10 percent of the cement used in Texas.

About 60 percent of the kiln's carbon dioxide emissions come from the change in chemical composition of the rock from limestone to clinker.

Shea and Kidnew are concentrating on reducing the other 40 percent , which generally comes from the annual burning of 160,000 tons of coal and petroleum coke, a carbon-heavy material similar to coal, to heat the kiln.

They have an advantage: For about six years, Texas Lehigh — part-owned by HeidelburgCement, a German company that has signed onto international carbon tracking measures — has kept track of its carbon emissions. It can figure out how much the addition of the green fuel has cut them.

Shea and Moore have put together a binder, more than 200 pages long , with 19 strategies for saving money and cutting carbon emissions ahead of federal legislation. They range from changing fuel to purchasing power from alternative sources to adding technology to capturing carbon emissions to paying for carbon offsets, such as the planting of trees.

To make sure the experiment is performed genuinely, Shea has consulted with staffers at the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and Downwinders at Risk, a Dallas-area group that has challenged the burning practices at cement kilns in North Texas, where kilns have come under attack for burning hazardous waste and tires.

The experiments at the Buda plant come as the Texas Legislature grapples with whether to spurn efforts in Washington to regulate carbon emissions or to join in negotiations.

Proposals by state Sen. Kip Averitt , R-Waco, and state Sen. Kirk Watson , D-Austin, would push Texas companies to track their carbon emissions. Although Averitt has clout as chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, the proposals stand little chance of getting into law, given the broader skepticism among the state leadership on the effects of carbon dioxide.

Kidnew says he is spending "well in the six figures" to address the cement factory's carbon emissions. He declined to say how much the company was paying Shea. He said the alternative fuel costs less than $100 a ton, which is how much the company has to pay for coal. The alternative fuel mix, which is about three parts wood and one part tire, by weight, is provided by Texas Disposal Systems, a waste and recycling company in Creedmoor.

Bob Gregory, who runs Texas Disposal Systems, said the untreated lumber is recycled from Austin's Green Building program and the tires come from stockpiles in San Antonio.

He said he aims to get the fuel cost down to $60 a ton.

He said his environmentalist friends have accused him of "burning jobs" because the material could be recycled for other uses; he counters that the fuel could help cut carbon emissions and address global warming.

Kidnew says he has gotten pushback from some of his colleagues in the cement business who ask why he's not fighting carbon caps.

"The legislative train on climate change is going to leave the station," he said he tells them. "You can spend energy trying to stop it or get the best seat on the train."

asherprice@statesman.com; 445-3643

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

WFAA, Channel 8, Cities see green on cement

January 23rd, 2009
Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and Plano all have a policy to pay up to five percent more for cement if it comes from an environmentally-friendly factory. But with cities slashing budgets, is it okay to spend taxpayer dollars to encourage social change? David Schechter has a Project Green report.