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NY Plant at Heart of Cement-Making Air Pollution Battle

November 9, 2010

ALBANY, N.Y. - The LaFarge cement plant in Ravena, south of Albany, is one of many cement factories nationwide under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut back on dangerous mercury emissions. The cement industry announced last Friday it's going to fight the new rules, and Earthjustice has responded quickly. On behalf of six environmental groups, the law firm is filing a brief in support of the EPA's decision, saying it would avoid 2500 premature deaths nationwide every year, and result in up to $18 billion worth of health benefits.

Susan Falzone, an environmental activist, lives across the Hudson River from the LaFarge facility and is disappointed in the industry's resistance.

"This is just a further delay that just causes all of us to be taking more mercury into our systems."

The industry trade group, the Portland Cement Association, argues that the proposed emission limits are too low and some plants won't be able to meet them. And it says the new rules are a threat to many cement companies, the jobs they provide, and the communities where they are located.

Attorney Jim Pew with Earthjustice says the industry's argument is "nonsense" and the EPA has determined that the economic benefits of meeting the rules will outweigh the costs. He adds that the U.S. cement industry is largely owned by multi-billion-dollar foreign companies.

"It's not going to drive them out of business. It's not going to cause them to cut jobs. They can do this, but they would just rather keep the money and let their toxic pollution go on killing people here in America."

Susan Falzone is director of Friends of Hudson, a local group that's been fighting the cement industry over pollution for many years. She's not surprised they are resisting the EPA rules.

"It is a rule with requirements that they can easily meet if they are willing to take on the expense. It makes me very angry to see how cynical they can be with people's lives. "

Jim Pew of Earthjustice says the cement industry has been raising what he calls "apocalyptic" claims for years about the effects of cleaning up its pollution. And he's eager to see what happens when the issue is heard by a Washington, D.C., Circuit Court.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY