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EPA issues air pollution standards for boilers and cement plants

December 21, 2012|By Kenneth R. Weiss
  • Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Chip Somodevilla / AFP/Getty…)

After a decade of legal and regulatory fights, the Environmental Protection Agency has finalized how it will crack down on highly toxic pollution from industrial boilers and cement plants.

But the regulations will give owners of industrial boilers and cement kilns years to meet strict new standards on mercury, acid gases and fine particulate matter, often called soot.

In announcing the new rules Friday, the EPA said the new standards will achieve extensive health benefits by curbing toxic air pollutants while at the same time dramatically reducing industry costs of compliance.

The way the new boiler standards are fashioned, the EPA announced that “99% of the approximately 1.5 million boilers in the U.S. are either not covered or can meet the new standards by conducting periodic maintenance or regular tune-ups.”

The new approach for cement plants was applauded by industry, which said it needed the extra time to comply with the new standards.

The EPA’s new rule, said Greg Scott, the president of the Portland Cement Assn., “strikes the right balance in establishing compliance limits that, while still extremely challenging, are now realistic and achievable.”

But it received largely critical reviews from environmental attorneys who have pushed for years for the crackdown that the EPA estimates would prevent up to 8,100 premature deaths a year by curbing the toxic pollutants.

“For the people living near cement plants in California, it means another two years of unabated pollution from some of the dirtiest plants in the country,” said James Pew, a staff attorney with Earthjustice.

Looking at health effects nationwide, he said, “by EPA’s own numbers, the delay alone will cause between 1,920 and 5,000 Americans to die prematurely and unnecessarily.”

Jane Williams, who lives near several cement plants in the Antelope Valley, called the EPA rule “a huge gift card to the cement industry.”

As director of Desert Citizens Against Pollution, she vowed to challenged the weakened standards in court.  Williams said residents around the plants have elevated respiratory illnesses and other health issues. Personally, she worries about her two children.

The EPA had tougher standards before it was sued by the cement industry. The result of that lawsuit, she said, was that the EPA “kowtowed to the industry.”  And, she said, “the communities that live around these towns are still in harm’s way."

ken.weiss@latimes.com

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