The owners of a Victorville cement plant - which the company says is the largest in the nation - face potentially millions of dollars in penalties for failing to obtain permits and install pollution controls during major expansions, according a complaint filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The plant is owned by Cemex California Cement LLC, a subsidiary of Cemex companies in Houston and Mexico. In the complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Riverside, the EPA says plant officials should have installed state-of-the-art emission controls when they upgraded a kiln in 1997 and installed a new kiln in 2000. Kilns are like large ovens where raw materials are heated in the cement-making process.
The complaint also said Cemex failed to obtain proper federal permits.
A company spokeswoman in Houston disputed the allegations.
"We used state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly technology as approved by California regulators, scientists and engineers," spokeswoman Susana Duarte said in an e-mail. "The projects reduced emission levels (and) improved the energy efficiency of the plant . . ."
In fact, the plant won an award from the local air district for "outstanding contribution to the prevention and/or control of air pollution within the local community," Duarte said.
Eldon Heaston, executive director of the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District, said the district has given out many such awards to area businesses. The district hasn’t had problems with the cement plant, he said.
He pointed out, though, that the EPA enforces different rules than the air district.
EPA officials declined to be interviewed. "Because this case is in active litigation, we cannot provide any additional public comments," EPA spokesman Francisco Arcaute said in an e-mail.
The EPA wants the company to install equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, according to the complaint.
Nitrogen oxide reacts with other airborne pollutants to form lung-irritating ozone gas and fine-particle pollution that is particularly harmful to children and elderly people.
"We believe that this will help improve air quality and protect public health in nearby communities," said Deborah Jordan, an EPA director in the Pacific Southwest region, in a news release.
The Victorville area fails to meet federal air quality standards for both ozone and particulate matter.
The federal Clean Air Act allows fines up to $32,500 a day per violation, meaning the fines could total more than $100 million. The EPA, however, has not specified what financial penalties it seeks.