US Mountain Cement pollution lawsuit

US Mountain Cement pollution lawsuit
Published: 22 November 2004

Biodiversity Conservation Alliance has served notice to the Mountain Cement  Company that it intends to proceed with legal action if Mountain Cement  continues to operate in a manner that Biodiversity says is in gross violation of Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit guidelines.

Mountain Cement contends that it is compliant with its permit  requirements, and that the violations are excused as start-ups, shutdowns  and malfunctions. Lawyers from both sides have met in recent weeks in hopes  of reaching an agreement.

“We expect a commitment from them to not violate their permit. They agreed  not to violate it, and that’s the law, and that’s not too much to ask,”  Biodiversity’s Jeremy Nichols said. “We see thousands of unexcused violations of kiln number two, and if there   are any exemptions, it is their burden to demonstrate that they are exempt,”  Biodiversity lawyer Reed Zars added.

“Biodiversity correctly points out in their letter that it is our obligation  to prove to a court, or to the DEQ, or to them or to other reviewing  entities that those start ups, shut downs and malfunctions are excusable  events under our permit. We believe that they are excusable events,” Mountain Cement lawyer Phil Nicholas said.

There are two kilns at Mountain Cement, each with an associated smokestack. In order to comply with DEQ standards for opacity — the percentage of light  that passes through the emission — Mountain Cement essentially cleans the  emission before releasing it into the atmosphere. Kiln one uses a baghouse to trap particulate matter, and both sides agree  that it is in full compliance with DEQ standards. Kiln two uses an  electrostatic precipitator that charges particles as they pass through the   system and then attracts them to a metal collecting plate.

Nicholas said that both technologies meet the best available technology  standard and are effective. Zars said that the best available technology  standard isn’t an issue; the fact that Mountain Cement’s kiln two is  violating its permit requirement language is.

The baghouse was installed in response to DEQ action taken in 2002. The  plant was violating opacity guidelines and took action to remedy the  situation by changing the technology at kiln one and changing plant  operations.

“We were not in compliance for a period of years, but now we’ve been in compliance since that NOV (Notice of Violation in August 2002),” Plant  manager Mike Meysing said.

Measurements are taken in 6-minute increments and Zars said compliance is expected to be continuous. Nicholas agreed that plant emissions have been sporadically in excess of the guidelines, but said that they are excusable and fall within the acceptable range allowed by the Wyoming DEQ.

“The Clean Air Act has requirements to maintain certain levels of opacity  and so forth, and its very black and white. It’s suppose to be 100 percent  compliant all of the time, but the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the state recognize that that’s difficult to do in a cement plant or any  other facility like that,” Olson said. “Does every 6-minute exceedance  constitute a violation? The short answer is yes.”

Given Mountain Cement’s willingness to invest heavily to conform to DEQ expectations, and a willingness to fully pay the fines already assessed or cede land to the city’s greenbelt in lieu of the fine, Nicholas said the  action by Biodiversity is unwarranted.

“Getting it through the court provides a layer of enforcement that will help  us as citizens rest easier knowing that if they (Mountain Cement) say  they’re going to do something and they don’t do it, we can go back to the judge,” Nichols said. (Original report Laramie Boomerang)