Cement plant dispute unresolved

Cement plant dispute unresolved
Published: 30 January 2006

After three months, the settlement between Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Sierra Club and Mountain Cement that all parties agreed to in court still hasn’t been finalised. The environmental groups alleged that the cement plant repeatedly violated its emissions permit, and the settlement was agreed to midtrial.

In part, the settlement requires Mountain Cement to reduce emissions by replacing the electrostatic precipitator on kiln No. 2 with a more efficient baghouse within 18 months of the settlement being finalized. Because Mountain Cement’s parent company, Dallas, Texas-based Eagle Materials, has decided to completely replace both kilns instead of just the baghouse on Kiln No. 2, Mountain Cement is reluctant to lock into a settlement that doesn’t reflect the change in plans, Mountain Cement’s attorney Phil Nicholas said.

Reed Zars, attorney for Biodiversity and the Sierra Club, said he is willing to talk with Mountain Cement about the change in building plans, but not before the settlement is finalized. Zars said Biodiversity and the Sierra Club prefer proceeding incrementally and potentially modifying the settlement once it is finalized to tearing up the settlement and starting anew.

“If there are going to be any other negotiations, they need to establish or reestablish some good faith, and right now in our minds, that means nailing down the agreement that we had that was read into the record and allowed them to avoid further trial. Fair is fair,” Zars said.

Mountain Cement prefers to renegotiate the settlement entirely to reflect changes that weren’t contemplated in October, Nicholas said. Mountain Cement is still committed to building a baghouse and meeting the other requirements of the settlement, Nicholas said; it simply wants Biodiversity to agree to extend the 18-month timetable until the new kiln can be built.

“If we do build a brand-new kiln, one that will have its own brand-new baghouse, we’re trying to evaluate if we can get that work done in 18 months. If they can’t get it done, then what we’re going to ask Biodiversity is to give us additional time to operate the No. 2 kiln while we build a new kiln,” Nicholas said.

The new kiln, which is an investment that Mountain Cement estimates at US$120m, is scheduled to be completed in fall 2008, Mountain Cement President Stuart Tomlinson said. If Mountain Cement’s timetable remains stable, it would need Biodiversity and the Sierra Club to agree to allow the operation of kiln No. 2 with the electrostatic precipitator for several months more than agreed to in the settlement.

Tomlinson said he is eager to meet the expectations of Biodiversity and the Sierra Club and is willing to be flexible in doing whatever is necessary to meet public health and environmental responsibilities. “The one thing we can’t do is build a new bag house and then tear it out a few months later. That could kill the project,” Tomlinson said.

The new baghouse on kiln No. 2 would cost US$5m. No one is willing to throw away that much money for a three- or four-month window of operation, Tomlinson said. The new kiln will replace both existing kilns and be cleaner and more efficient, Tomlinson added. The US$120m investment will also be a long-term economic boon to Laramie, he said.