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Cement Plant Proposal Causes Clean Air Concern at Canyon

March 3, 2009

Phoenix, AZ – A huge cement plant proposed within 50 miles of Grand Canyon National Park is raising concerns from environmental groups, worried that emissions will mar the park's famous views.

Supporters say the $400 million plant will bring jobs and tax revenues to a remote part of Arizona. But Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter, says clean air is more important to the region's economy.

"If you want to talk about an economic engine, it's so important for Northern Arizona, and visitors come there to see the beautiful view. That's a big part of Grand Canyon."

The plant would be owned by Mexico-based Cemex. The company says it will employ state-of-the-art pollution control equipment. If the plant is constructed, Bahr favors a proposal from a nearby landowner that an oversight commission be created, made up of residents who live within 30 miles of the plant.

"Provided that they're not cherry-picked by the company to represent a particular perspective, and that they have good information to deal with. Obviously, trying to do something that's more friendly to the community is a step in the right direction."

Some states are relaxing their environmental rules to attract business to economically-depressed areas. Arizona has yet to issue an air quality permit for the plant, and Bahr disputes the idea that clean air must be sacrificed for jobs.

"It's a terrible argument. In fact, a lot of environmental protections have helped spur innovation, and there are a lot more jobs in promoting energy efficiency than there are in just continuing the same old way of doing things."

According to Cemex, the plant would bring 700 construction jobs and 110 permanent positions. Bahr remains concerned, not only about the potential effects of a haze of emissions in the national park, but on the health of nearby residents as well.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ