Cement plant faces new rules, lawsuit

Photo By: Town Crier file photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

The Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement Plant, above, faces tighter emission rules.

The Lehigh Southwest Permanente Cement Plant may find its hands full in the new year.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced in late November that it would begin adapting costly federal regulations aimed at reducing nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and other air pollutants to plants that manufacture Portland cement by 2013. Lehigh is the only plant in the air district’s jurisdiction that produces that cement.

In a December study session, the air district pinpointed how the new rules, which require upgrading equipment to clean the cement-making process, would affect Lehigh.

According to the district’s presentation, the cement plant is already undergoing major modifications to their facility to bring it into compliance with National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.

Tim Matz, Lehigh’s Corporate Director of Environmental Affairs, confirmed the upgrades are in progress. He added that the company would investigate whether it can overlap any of the NESHAP-related technology with the air district’s regulations.

If the Environmental Protection Agency regulations – known as Regulation 9, Rule 13 – go into effect it, then it could cost Lehigh $700,000 annually. And that’s after it installs $27 million to $32 million worth of new machinery.

“Lehigh will work with the district to try to develop a fair, balanced and, most importantly, achievable, rule,” Matz said.

Lawsuit alleges

dirty creek discharge

The Sierra Club, a national non-profit agency that promotes environmental advocacy, filed a civil lawsuit against Lehigh Dec. 19 accusing the cement maker of violating the Clean Water Act by discharging various pollutants into nearby Permanente Creek, which flows into San Francisco Bay.

“Lehigh’s unlawful discharges of selenium and other toxic and conventional compounds into Permanente Creek pollute Permanente Creek to such an extent that its water is lethal to some forms of aquatic life,” the Sierra Club’s complaint alleges.

The document indicates that the Sierra Club seeks injunctive relief and “civil penalties” but does not go into detail.

Lehigh officials declined to comment, citing active litigation, but defended the plant’s activities in a statement.

“Lehigh’s Permanente Cement Plant has a valid permit that covers both ‘stormwater’ and ‘authorized non-stormwater’ discharges, and the facility is in compliance with its water management permits,” the statement reads. “It’s unfortunate that the Sierra Club has chosen (to file a lawsuit) rather than engage in a rational dialogue.”

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