A CalPortland cement plant near the high desert community of Mojave has agreed to pay a fine of $1.4 million and spend $1.3 million on equipment needed to reduce emissions of pollutants that cause asthma and generate smog, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.
The penalties were part of a settlement that capped an investigation by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice into the CalPortland Co. facility, one of the largest emitters of nitrogen oxide pollution in California.
"This is one of the biggest fines against a cement facility," said Jared Blumenfeld, the EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "It comes at a time when the EPA is focusing on cement production as a sector which can make significant improvements in air quality nationwide."
CalPortland Vice President Scott Isaacson said, "We've chosen to settle this matter and we are not going to quarrel with EPA. Our focus will be implementation and resolution of the settlement, a process that will unfold over the next few years."
The 58-year-old plant employs 130 people and is one of the largest businesses in the unincorporated community of about 4,000 people best known as home to the Mojave Air and Space Port, a campus of more than 60 companies engaged in aerospace development, manufacturing and flight testing.
The EPA probe revealed that CalPortland made significant modifications at the plant that increased emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide without first obtaining a pre-construction permit and installing pollution control equipment required by the Clean Air Act. The company also failed to submit accurate and complete permit applications, the EPA said.
The settlement ensures that the proper equipment will be installed to reduce annual pollution by at least 1,200 tons of nitrogen oxide and 360 tons of sulfur dioxide, said Ignacio S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the environmental and natural resources division of the Department of Justice.
The plant, about 95 miles northeast of Los Angeles in Kern County, now emits about 3,200 tons of nitrogen oxides and 1,200 tons of sulfur dioxide per year, the EPA said.
CalPortland has one year to install and operate emission controls for nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, the EPA said.
Nitrogen oxides are linked to health problems, visual impairment and asthma. Sulfur dioxide, in high concentrations, can affect breathing and aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.