August 6, 2012
Dear Administrator Jackson,
We, the undersigned environmental, public health and grassroots groups, write with grave concern about the future of the air toxics standards for Portland cement kilns. Since 1997, these facilities— collectively the second largest source of industrial mercury emissions in our country and also major emitters of soot, acid gases and other dangerous pollutants—have managed to elude Clean Air Act standards at great cost to the health of residents who live nearby. The standards you issued in 2010 signaled a momentous shift that would ensure an unnecessarily dirty industry finally starts playing by the rules. Unfortunately, your recent proposal would delay this much needed relief by two years and weaken the critical limits on emissions of soot, arsenic, chromium, lead, and other toxic pollutants. For these reasons, EPA should abandon its proposed revisions and allow the 2010 rule to take effect as written, without any further delay.
When EPA issued the 2010 rule, it explained that when the standards take effect in 2013 they will prevent between 960 and 2,500 premature deaths every year. Each year, they will also prevent more than 17,000 severe asthma attacks, 1,500 non‐fatal heart attacks, and 130,000 missed days of work. The money value of these benefits is between $6.7 billion and $18 billion annually. The rule provides between $7 and $19 dollars in benefits for every $1 dollar in costs. And that is just counting the benefit of reducing fine particulate matter pollution; reductions in toxics like mercury, arsenic, and lead provide additional benefits that EPA has not even quantified.
Given the enormous benefits of the cement standards and the decade long delay in issuing them, EPA’s proposal to weaken and delay them now is perplexing. The proposed delay alone will cause between 1,920 and 5,000 premature deaths, 35,000 severe asthma attacks, 3,000 heart attacks and 260,000 days of missed work. Moreover, weakening the pollution limits and emissions control standards for soot will do permanent damage that could take decades to fix. The two year delay will also result in an extra 32,000 pound of mercury released into the air. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that has been found in the air downwind of cement plants. Once deposited mercury accumulates in the food chain and poses a health risk from contaminated fish, particularly for pregnant women and young children. EPA’s delay is bad news for children’s brains – low levels of mercury exposure during critical times in brain development have been linked to learning problems and developmental delays. To protect kids, we need to speed up mercury clean‐up not slow it down.
Further, the proposal is completely unnecessary. EPA already has successfully turned back the cement industry’s attacks on this rule in the Court and in Congress. In December 2011, the agency won a D.C. Circuit Court ruling that upheld the cement air toxics standards and found that maintaining the implementation deadline of September 2013 would not harm the industry. In 2011, industry‐sponsored legislation to delay and weaken the cement standards failed in Congress after finding scant support in the Senate. Under these circumstances, it is hard to understand why you would propose to weaken and the delay the rule now, when the relief it will bring is little more than a year away.
The proposal to delay the standards also seems unnecessary from a practical point of view. EPA has stated that the standards are not changing in a substantive sense. If that is true, there is no reason for further delay. Alternatively, if the standard is being weakened – as the changed numbers appear to indicate – the cement industry’s plans to meet the existing standards will also meet the proposed standards. The industry does not need another two years to do less to control its pollution and the communities that neighbor them cannot tolerate the additional pollution.
Giving the cement industry more time to do less is an unnecessary epilogue that will be at odds with your agency's record of fighting for clean air, and, most importantly, have real‐life detrimental impacts on the communities who breathe air that has been polluted by cement plants.
For the foregoing reasons, it would be in the best interest of the public for EPA to withdraw this proposal and abandon any delay to the implementation of the standard consistent with the December 2011 federal court of appeals decision.
Center for Biological Diversity
Clean Water Action
Conservation Law Foundation
League of Conservation Voters
League of Women Voters
Natural Resources Defense Council
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Physicians for Social Responsibility, Arizona
Southern Environmental Law Center