Etched in Cement? Court Closes Kiln Loophole
ALBANY, N.Y. - A federal court ruled Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can no longer let cement plants off the hook for fines if the plants - or kilns - spew dangerous pollution and claim it was the result of what's known as an "upset" or a mistake. Seth Johnson represented a number of groups united in cleaning up pollution from cement plants in New York and around the nation.
Johnson said the companies often use that loophole.
"'Sorry! Had an accident. Not our fault. We'll try not let it happen again,'" they say. It happens over and over again," Johnson explained.
The EPA and polluters are now on notice that standards have to be fully enforceable. The standards, however, still could be tougher, in Johnson's opinion.
Residents in and around Ravena, near Albany, have fought long and hard against pollution from the Lafarge plant there, which is undergoing modernization. Albany-based Citizens Environmental Coalition was a plaintiff, and spokesperson Barbara Warren welcomed the ruling.
"This loophole, this malfunction provision - we're so glad that this was closed for cement plants," Warren said. "We think it will have more impact down the road, too, so I'm very pleased."
Johnson said the environmental law firm Earthjustice has been working on behalf of groups for more than a decade to reduce dangerous emissions from cement-making, including New York's Friends of the Hudson.
"There are people who live in the shadow of these kilns, and who deal with these kilns, these plants, on an every-day basis," he said. "They have to breathe in the mercury and the particulate matter, the lead, the hydrocarbons, the hydrochloric acid that these plants put out."
Johnson said the ruling, made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, also may have an effect on efforts at combating climate change.
"The loophole that EPA put into the cement plant rule is one that it was proposing to put into its rule governing greenhouse gas pollution from power plants. This ruling says they can't do that," he explained.
The decision comes as activists prepare to celebrate Earth Day Tuesday and the EPA launches an Earth Week initiative aimed at getting Americans to reduce their carbon footprint.