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 Downwinders At Risk - Articles: DON'T GIVE IN TO THE CEMENT BULLIES

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Denton Record Chronicle Editorial

08:21 AM CST on Monday, December 8, 2008

Picture this: A health-conscious city looking to prepare for its annual pie-eating contest issues an invitation for bids, along with the specification that the pies must be made with artificial sweetener. The Pie-Oh-My Co. of East Frog Leg, Texas, which does not make sugar-free pies, sues in federal court, claiming the no-sugar requirement stifles competition in violation of the United States Constitution.

If that sounds ridiculous, it is, but it is essentially what Ash Grove Texas LP has done in filing a federal suit against the cities of Dallas, Plano, Arlington and Fort Worth. Ash Grove Texas doesn't make pies; it makes cement, and it makes it using a "wet-kiln" process that turns out pretty good cement but also produces serious air po llutants. The defendant cities have all passed resolutions favoring the purchase of cement made by a cleaner, "dry-kiln" process.
If the pie analogy is too far-fetched for you, try this one: Under the argument posited by Ash Grove Texas, an automobile manufacturer that makes only gas-guzzling, air-polluting vehicles could sue any city that advertised for high-mileage, low-emission cars for its municipal fleet.

We have no idea if the cement company actually believes their own argument. We tend to think it's using the lawsuit as a cudgel to intimidate other cities that are contemplating similar resolutions.

Unfortunately, the bullying tactic may be working. Even worse, it may be working right here in Denton.

The Denton City Council had such a resolution on the agenda last week, but postponed action on it after about Ash Grove Texas' lawsuit. According to the report by the Record-Chronicle's Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, the council decided to postpone action on the resolution after City Attorney Anita Burgess "urged the council to be cautious."

"Be cautious" is usually good advice, but not when trying to figure out what to do about a bully.

No governmental entity should recklessly discount the consequences of litigation. But neither should it be intimidated by a platoon of legal blowhards with a fat client and a dubious legal claim.

The reduction of air pollution is, or should be, high on the agenda of every municipality in North Texas. Dry-kiln technology is a cleaner way of making cement, and any government that buys cement has not only the right, but the duty, to demand that it come from as environmentally friendly a source as possible.

Anybody can file a lawsuit about anything; the members of our City Council should know this from experience. There is a time to "be cautious," and there is a time to say, "See you in court, pal."

This looks to us like a time for the latter.