Two major local employers, Lehigh Southwest Cement Company in Tehachapi and CalPortland Cement in Mojave, are facing a stringent new federal emission rule that may be impossible to meet.
Both plants fall short of the proposed standard for mercury emissions, but the Lehigh plant has a far greater challenge ahead of it to meet the demands of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The proposed standard for mercury is “very low,” said Kern County Air Pollution Control Officer Dave Jones.
“Our plant has been on this site for the last 100 years and now the United States Environmental Protection Agency has determined if we cannot meet their proposed emission levels, the plant would be required to close,” said Lehigh Plant Manager Craig Mifflin. “Lehigh is in the process of preparing pilot plant studies to determine the ability of existing control technologies to control these pollutants. The challenge of course, will be the ability to meet all of the parameters’ extremely low limits.”
By requiring that lowered thresholds for four toxic emissions be met at the same time, “initial studies show that no one cement plant in existence today will be able to meet the proposed standards,” said Andy O’Hare, vice president of regulatory affairs for the Portland Cement Association, which represents the industry, at a June 16 EPA hearing in Los Angeles.
The EPA is seeking to reduce emissions of mercury, total hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid and particulate matter.
In the Clean Air Act, Congress intended to set achievable standards that embrace emission levels of the best performing plants - “not the levels of a hypothetical plant that does not and cannot exist in practice,” O’Hare said.
The United States will need to produce 30 per cent more cement by the year 2020 to meet anticipated demand, and loss of domestic production will make global pollution worse, O’Hare said.
Just shipping the material to the US across sea and land will require a huge amount of fossil fuels, he said.
O’Hare said the US cement industry has improved energy efficiency and air pollution control for a decade “with stellar environmental results.”
“I completely agree with the assessment by the Portland Cement Association of the newly proposed EPA regulations,” said Bruce Shafer, plant manager of the CalPortland plant in Mojave. “I would emphasize that the method by which these rules have been developed is biased based on the raw materials available at each individual cement plant and based on insufficient data, which gives little confidence that the limits in the new rules are remotely achievable. The EPA has failed to use an appropriate data set to determine the rules.”
Industry sources assert the EPA cherry-picked the tests to come up with the new standards, he said.
“They chose the lowest HCl (hydrochloric acid) emissions from one group of facilities,” Mifflin said. “They chose the lowest total hydrocarbon emissions from another group of cement facilities. They chose the lowest mercury emissions from another group of cement facilities.”
The EPA proposed rule, Mifflin said, would force cement production out of entire regions of the United States.
EPA: lives will be saved
The Los Angeles hearing was the first in a three-day blitz to solicit public comment on the proposed federal emission standards for Portland cement kilns. Hearings followed in Dallas on June 17 and Washington, DC on June 18.
To formulate the new rule, the agency studied emissions from 89 US kilns and derived the proposed standards from the 11 lowest-emitting kilns (12 percent of the total). The plants are not identified by name in the study.
The proposed EPA rule will allow no more than 43 pounds of mercury per Mta of production.
The agency concluded that high mercury levels in the raw materials are the most significant factor in the levels of mercury in the emissions.
The Kern County Air Pollution Control District emission numbers for both plants are lower than those the EPA is using.
The EPA’s testing method based on the raw material going into the kiln at Lehigh Southwest - not the actual emissions - showed 1800 pounds per year, Jones said.
The Kern County Pollution Control District’s 2008 stack emission test numbers for Lehigh, based on three source tests, are estimated to be in 950 to 1,000 pounds per year, Jones said.
Those numbers are considerably lower than what Lehigh tested before abandoning its local silica quarry for a source in Nevada with a near-zero mercury content.
While Lehigh’s mercury emissions have declined, they are still large compared to everybody else, Jones said.
“Forty-three pounds per million tons of clinker (end product of the kiln) - that is very low,” he said. “It will be tough for them to meet that.”
He said Lehigh is experimenting with a new process to capture kiln dust without unlocking additional mercury.
A hundred years of cement plant dust apparently has not increased the toxicity of the area soil, according to one study.
A small air and soil study by a group from the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2007 found that mercury levels in the town of Tehachapi upwind of the Lehigh plant were higher than levels downwind in Sand Canyon. The levels of mercury in the soil at all of the sites, including the town of Tehachapi, did not exceed state or federal soil guidelines.
Jones said that using the EPA method of determining emissions by measuring raw material going into the process, the CalPortland Mojave plant would produce 90 to 95 pounds of mercury emissions for an average production year.
Jones said that a test of what is coming out of the CalPortland stack would show that the mercury emissions actually are lower than that.
They have not done a full stack test for mercury in several years, Jones said.
Industry spokesman O’Hare said that the best performing plants in the EPA study “have the lowest emissions based largely on their source of raw materials, not the technology or operational expertise they employ…
“Importantly, we do not believe it was the intent of Congress to put plants out of business, particularly those that use minerals, such as limestone, as raw materials.”