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 Downwinders At Risk - Articles: December 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Greenwire pm on cement industry lobbying, Dec. 1, 2006

AIR POLLUTION: Cement industry lobbies OMB against tighter mercury, HCI rules

Daniel Cusick, E&ENews PM reporter

Industry representatives asked the Bush administration yesterday to forego tighter restrictions on mercury and hydrogen chloride (HCI) emissions from cement kilns, saying new regulation was not needed.

Portland Cement Association and Ash Grove Cement Co. told officials with U.S. EPA and the White House Office of Management and Budget that HCI emissions from nearly all U.S. cement kilns "fall well below any threshold of concern for both human and environmental receptors," according to documents filed with OMB.

On mercury, industry reps reiterated their support for an earlier EPA finding that neither a "maximum achievable control technology" (MACT) standard nor a "below the floor" standard is warranted to address emissions from 115 U.S. portland cement factories.

EPA enforces tougher standards for cement kilns that burn hazardous wastes, but facilities that burn primarily coal and gas have not been subject yet to tougher rules for mercury, HCI or other potentially dangerous organic compounds. EPA is under court order to issue a new rule on portland cement facilities by Dec. 8.

Mercury has been of particular concern to regulators and public health officials because it accumulates in certain species of fish and shellfish. Humans who eat mercury-tainted fish are at greater risk of developing neurological problems, and women and children are especially cautioned against eating certain species.

EPA has estimated that portland cement facilities emit roughly 5 tons of mercury per year and as much as 15,000 tons of HCI annually. But such emissions were virtually unregulated until Earthjustice and the Sierra Club filed a 2004 lawsuit forcing the agency to draft more specific regulations.

Last December, EPA proposed a rule calling for no additional mercury reductions from cement plants, saying such action was "not justified." The agency also proposed implementing a risk-based emission standard for HCI, whereby facilities that demonstrated a low risk of adverse effects from HCI could be exempted from tougher standards.

'A more difficult nut to crack'

Yesterday's OMB meeting was criticized by environmental advocates who said it was part of a campaign by cement makers to secure final approval of a weak rule. "It's deplorable that the cement industry would spend its resources lobbying the White House rather than cleaning up the toxic mess it makes," Frank O'Donnell, director of the nonprofit group Clean Air Watch, said in an e-mail.

But Andrew O'Hare, vice president for regulatory affairs at the Portland Cement Association, said the meeting was to update regulators on what steps the industry had taken to address outstanding concerns. He described mercury as "a more difficult nut to crack for our industry because it's so tied to our raw materials."

Most of the mercury emitted from cement kilns comes from limestone, the primary raw material in cement. Limestone contains varying amounts of mercury depending upon its geologic origin, according to EPA's analysis. A secondary source of cement plant mercury is coal, which is burned to achieve high temperatures for converting calcium and silicate oxides into calcium silicate. Finally, mercury can be present in fly ash, an alternative cement-making material that kiln operators acquire from coal-fired power plants.

As with mercury, environmental groups have said the HCI proposal does not go far enough, and some groups have alleged that the risk-based standard, as proposed by EPA, is illegal.

In comments to EPA, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies argued that the agency must first establish a MACT standard for HCI, after which it can address "residual risk" from such emissions. On mercury, NACAA said a final mercury rule for portland cement facilities should require the best available mercury control equipment, including wet and dry scrubbers, sorbent injection technologies and removal of mercury from boiler fly ash.

The cement industry officials yesterday expressed opposition to an industry-wide application of wet scrubbers because, they said, "the technology has not been demonstrated on cement plants for the purposes of controlling mercury emissions."

Industry reps also said there was "insufficient data to establish a specific mercury emission limit for new or greenfield cement kilns," noting that mercury content was strongly associated with the type of raw materials used, and that most plants must rely on local sources of limestone, sand, shale and other raw materials.

The industry does support language that would prohibit use of fly ash from power plant boilers that capture mercury using activated carbon because "it will result in an increase of mercury input into the process."

Smog Plan to miss goal, Dallas Morning News

Smog plan to miss goal
North Texas proposal affects industry, traffic; foes see no cut in ozone
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
By RANDY LEE LOFTIS / The Dallas Morning News

A proposed smog-fighting plan for urban North Texas released Tuesday falls short of the requirement for cleaning up the air by the federal Clean Air Act deadline of March 2009.

The plan, which calls for mandatory pollution cuts from local industries and improvements in traffic flows, relies heavily on new federal limits on emissions from vehicles and fuels.

Still, Texas environmental officials predicted that the plan would work.

"It's a pretty aggressive plan," said David Schanbacher, chief engineer for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which released details of its proposal.

But environmentalists branded the plan a failure, saying it does not achieve a clear victory over the lung-scarring ozone pollution that has plagued the North Texas region for decades. It also does not restrict driving or change vehicle standards.

The state predicts that two ozone monitors, in Frisco and Denton, will still register levels over the federal limit in 2009.

A federal provision allows states to argue that their plans are close enough to the goal to deserve approval by the Environmental Protection Agency. And Texas is using that provision to seek approval of the Dallas-Fort Worth plan.

Even if the plan achieved the current federal limit on ozone, that limit may be too high to protect public health.

Science advisers to the EPA have suggested that the current limit should be reduced by about 10 percent.

The new state plan "really is a slap in the face to the idea that this is a public-health issue" instead of just a legal issue, said Jim Schermbeck of Downwinders at Risk, a group fighting for tighter pollution limits on Ellis County's cement kilns.

He called on the EPA to reject the plan.

Under the Clean Air Act, polluted areas must clean up their air or face the threat of new restrictions on industrial expansions. The ultimate federal sanction – the loss of federal highway money – applies only if a state repeatedly fails to submit an acceptable plan. That punishment has never been imposed.

Only once, in 1999, has the Environmental Protection Agency threatened such sanctions. And even then, the threat vanished a year later when state officials submitted a revised plan.

The new state proposal, which covers Dallas, Collin, Rockwall, Denton, Tarrant, Ellis, Kaufman, Johnson and Parker counties, goes before the state environmental agency's three commissioners on Dec. 16. After the commissioners endorse the plan, the agency will accept written public comments from Dec. 29 to Feb. 12.

The agency has scheduled public hearings on Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. at Arlington City Hall and 6 p.m. at the Midlothian Civic Center. Other hearings are set for Longview and Austin.

The state must submit a final version of the plan to the EPA by June 15.

Ozone's effects

Ozone is the most troublesome ingredient of urban smog. The chemical cooks in the atmosphere during the summer when sunlight reacts with pollution from vehicles, industries and other sources.

It causes breathing problems and can trigger asthma attacks, which can be fatal. Children, the elderly and the infirm are at the greatest risk, but ozone can also affect healthy people when levels are highest.

Ozone can't be smelled or seen. However, the brown haze that rings the Dallas-Fort Worth horizon for much of the year is related to ozone; it's nitrogen oxides, ozone-causing chemicals that result from burning any fuel, from gasoline in a car to coal in a power plant.

Although vehicles are the biggest local source of ozone-causing emissions, the typical motorist would have to do nothing different as a result of the state's new ozone proposal.

People in 16 North Texas counties drive more than 106 million miles daily – the equivalent of driving from Earth to the sun and 13 million miles beyond – the Texas Department of Transportation says. Driving has doubled since 1980 and could double again by 2012.

The plan includes no restrictions on driving or drive-through lanes, no changes in state emissions inspections and no California-type vehicle engine standards.

It does include a variety of local voluntary measures, such as more HOV lanes and better traffic coordination. Those with the highest predictions of success in cutting emissions include intersection improvements and voluntary vanpooling efforts.

Much of the plan's predicted improvement in local air quality would come from new federal fuel and vehicle standards being phased in over the next few years.

Heavy-duty commercial vehicles face continued restrictions on extended idling under the state plan.

One project that local officials rank as a high priority, the Texas Emissions Reduction Program, offers companies grants to help them replace older, dirtier diesel engines with new ones. But the Legislature has not released all the money collected for the program.

Kilns, power plants

The plan puts new restrictions on industries in the nine-county area, including power plants and cement kilns. And it limits emissions from pipeline compressor engines across East Texas.

But it does not require power companies to cut emissions from plants outside the nine-county area, despite a state study last year that said such reductions might be needed in order to help clean up Dallas-Fort Worth's air.

Dallas-based TXU says it would voluntarily reduce its pollution as part of its plans to build 11 new coal-burning power plants. Other companies with existing or proposed power plants have not made similar pledges.

The smog plan calls for cement kilns in Ellis County, which are North Texas' biggest industrial polluters, to cut their emissions of nitrogen oxides by 35 to 50 percent. Environmental groups are pressing for cuts of about 85 percent.

The environmental commission's Mr. Schanbacher said the agency rejected the demands for deeper cuts because the equipment that would yield them is unproven. Pollution control systems that can cut emissions by about 50 percent, by contrast, are readily available and can be installed quickly, he said.

Environmentalists dispute that assessment, citing the state agency's own study this summer that said the cement plants could make the deeper cuts. The state commissioned the study as part of a settlement of a lawsuit that environmental groups filed over the previous Dallas-Fort Worth smog plan.

Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen, one of the groups that filed the suit, called the plan a giveaway to big industries at the expense of public health. "They're protecting these polluters one more time – they're protecting the powerful," he said.

Mr. Schanbacher, however, said the plan covers nearly every source of ozone-causing emissions and would show more success than the critics charged. "I'm proud of this plan," he said.
E-mail rloftis@dallasnews.com

Trouble in the Air, Dallas Morning News


Trouble in the air
D-FW is on track to meet EPA pollution standards, but experts say that's not enough to protect public
08:29 AM CST on Sunday, December 3, 2006

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS / The Dallas Morning News
Texas' new smog-fighting plan would seem to offer hope of health to the 6 million North Texans who have wheezed through decades of dirty air.

State officials promised last month that by 2009, federal, state and local measures would combine to help protect people from breathing unsafe levels of lung-scarring ozone. For the first time, the region would meet one of the nation's most important public-health goals.

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But a mountain of medical evidence shows that even if the plan achieved the promised pollution cuts, it would still allow pollution levels that researchers know to be unhealthy. That is because the plan is based on a federal standard for ozone that experts say doesn't protect the public.

Medical studies have found that ozone reduces lung functions and causes long-term health damage even when levels are at or below the current federal limit.

In October, the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, a group of independent science and medical experts, urged the agency to slash the standard, which dates from 1997, by as much as 25 percent to safeguard people, especially children and the elderly.

"It is the unanimous opinion of the CASAC that the current primary [standard] for ozone is not adequate to protect human health," the committee wrote to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson on Oct. 24. "There is no scientific justification" for keeping the current standard, the experts wrote.

While the EPA considers whether to scrap the current standard, Texas and other states can continue to base their clean-air plans on it. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality did so when it issued proposed smog plans for North Texas and greater Houston on Nov. 21.

The current ozone standard is 80 parts per billion – that is, out of every billion molecules a person breathes in, no more than 80 of those may consist of ozone. Because of imprecise measurement, the EPA does not count a violation until ozone reaches 85 parts per billion.

The Dallas-Fort Worth plan predicts that by 2009, most North Texas communities would have ozone levels just below 85 ppb. Frisco and Denton would still have ozone levels higher than 85.

A review of ozone records for 2004-06 shows that levels in some North Texas communities must come down by as much as 11 percent just to meet the current standard. In all cases, even with the plan in place and working as promised, the region's ozone levels would be far higher than the EPA science advisers said is needed to protect people's health. The advisers said the standard should be as low as 60 ppb and no higher than 70.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to consider only medical findings, not the cost of compliance, in setting federal air pollution standards – just as a doctor is supposed to base a diagnosis only on the medical evidence, not on the cost of treatment or the amount of insurance the patient has.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the health-only approach to clean-air standards.

The EPA's science advisers noted that the medical evidence for ozone's harm at or below the current federal limit came from studies of healthy volunteers. People with increased risks – especially children with asthma – face even greater danger, they wrote.

They felt so strongly about the medical need for dramatically lower ozone levels that when they sent their findings to the EPA's Mr. Johnson, they put their conclusions in italics.

The official in charge of Texas' state plans, TCEQ chief engineer David Schanbacher, said the agency doesn't plan to revise its plans in light of the advances in knowledge about ozone's health risks.

"I'm not going to speculate on what they [EPA officials] might do with the standard in the future," Mr. Schanbacher said.

He called the North Texas plan "a pretty aggressive program that addresses all the NOX [nitrogen oxides, a component of ozone] sources that we can control in the D-FW area."

The plan relies heavily on upcoming federal rules on vehicles and fuels along with some state-ordered industrial emissions cuts – not as deep as environmentalists wanted – and voluntary local steps such as van-pooling and HOV lanes.

Critics say planners have erred by focusing narrowly on meeting the federal standard, the minimum required by the Clean Air Act, instead of making a strong statement about protecting public health.

"I think that's one of the things we really have to concentrate on, is letting people know what the cars, automobiles are doing, what the power plants are doing, what the cement kilns are doing," said Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, a physician and a vice president of Arlington Memorial Hospital.

"They're killing people," Dr. Cluck said.

Other pollutants

Ozone isn't the only air pollutant in North Texas with greater potential health impacts than government standards might suggest.

In September, the EPA took action on its standard for fine particulate matter, or tiny particles of soot, emitted by vehicles, industry, fireplaces and other sources. Medical researchers have linked particulates to heart attacks, lung cancer and premature death.

The EPA lowered the maximum particulate level allowed on any single day by nearly half, from 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 35 micrograms. But it kept intact the maximum annual average of 15 micrograms – a measurement with greater health implications because it tracks long-term exposure.

If the agency had adopted the most protective annual standard that its science advisers recommended – 13 micrograms – Dallas and Harris counties would have been in violation. Dallas County's average in recent years has been about 13.8.

Violator status could have triggered mandatory reductions in particulates from local businesses and industries. It also might have added pressure for more stringent measures to control local vehicles' pollution.

Just as significantly, a violator designation would have alerted North Texans that local air pollution levels the federal government labeled as safe might actually pose a health risk.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas pointed to just such a risk.

The study compared the rate of lung cancer in all 254 Texas counties to industrial emissions of particulates that contain metals. Although the EPA says that no Texas county has harmful levels of particulates, the study found a correlation between air emissions of metals and the incidence of lung cancer.

The highest lung-cancer rates were in the most industrialized areas of greater Houston and the nearby Gulf Coast counties, and metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth.

The study's chief author, Dr. Yvonne Coyle, said she was looking for a possible explanation of rising rates of lung cancer among people who don't smoke, especially women. About 10 to 15 percent of people who get lung cancer have never smoked.

The study, published in September in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology , suggests but does not prove that the particulate pollution is responsible for lung cancer, said Dr. Coyle, a physician and associate professor at UT-Southwestern. Further research will look at the environmental exposures of individual lung cancer patients.

However, there are suspicions that in some patients, particulates are interacting with other cancer-causing environmental factors or are suppressing the body's natural ability to fight off tumors.

"We clearly have decreasing amounts of men smokers, and the [number of] women smokers is leveling off," Dr. Coyle said. "It's not all tobacco smoke. There's something else going on. ... It gets back to the environment."

Political concerns

Ozone and particulates are both byproducts of the way the region's economy is structured. Urban growth has canceled out much of the benefit of tighter vehicle emissions rules; cars are cleaner, but there are more of them, being driven longer distances.

Cars remain the biggest local pollution source, although their share of the total has dropped in recent years. Cement and power plants and other industries are also big sources.

In the proposed smog plan, regional and state planners rejected any restrictions on driving as being unenforceable. The plan does not call for tighter vehicle pollution rules, although several bills filed for the 2007 Legislature would require Texas to adopt California's emissions standards, the nation's strictest.

State environmental commission officials decided not to require the 80 percent to 90 percent emissions cuts for cement kilns that environmentalists wanted, opting for cuts of 35 percent to 50 percent. And they chose not to demand reductions from power plants outside North Texas, although the state's biggest generator, TXU, has promised voluntary reductions from its existing plants as part of its request for permits to build 11 new coal-burning units.

Mike Eastland, the region's chief planner, said he believes the state plan is a good one, given the complexity of controlling big industries as well as millions of motorists. Still, he said, dramatically lower ozone levels might be achievable, but not right away.

"If you're talking about 10 or 15 years from now, maybe 60 or 70 [ppb] isn't an impossible thing," said Mr. Eastland, executive director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which provided staff support to a local committee that worked on the plan. "But if you're talking about in another four or five years, there's just no way the public would tolerate" the drastic steps that would be required, he said.

Dr. Richard L. Wasserman, a Dallas pediatric allergist and immunologist, rejected the idea that achieving healthy air is impossible. Dr. Wasserman, who has a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences in addition to his M.D., said "specific political decisions" have blocked progress.

"The lobbying of the breathing public," he said, "is not as well-funded as the lobbying of the ozone producers."

E-mail rloftis@dallasnews.com