EPA Takes on Texas' Biggest Polluters

Cement or mercury? Tough choice.

The EPA has had a long and turbulent history with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the agency has recently decided to take further action on some of the TCEQ’s controversial practices.

They have recently taken up arms against with new vigor against  “flexible permits,” which Texas allows to certain companies to calculate their emissions based on an average of several years, allowing them to fluctuate -- and create more at certain periods.

One permit allowed a 10-year permit renewal for TXI’s cement plant in Midlothian without a hearing. The Midlothian plants have caused problems for a while because the area has the largest concentration of cement plants in the country, and such plants are known for emitting mercury, particulate matter, hydrochloric acid and other chemicals contributing to smog called “total hydrocarbons.”

"None of our opponents presented a single medical doctor or toxicologist who would testify under oath that this program has harmed or will harm anyone," said Harold Green, TXI's director of communications of the renewal.

Those in the industry argue that newly proposed heavy regulations would send cement production overseas.

However, at a recent EPA hearing in Dallas, many residents favored tighter regulation, regardless of the expense to the cement business. Understandably so - it is hard to sympathize with the cement industry when you're breathing mercury.

The new rules the EPA has proposed would drop emissions from cement kilns by anyhwere from 81 percent to 93 percent, but would not take effect until 2013.

Holly LaFon has written and worked for various local publications including D Magazine and Examiner.

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