Photo By: Courtesy of Jitze Couperus
In a test of public-private partnership, a new Breathe California report funded by the cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills aims to make recommendations – not accusations – that address emissions at Lehigh Southwest Cement’s Permanente Quarry in Cupertino.
“The intent was not to sit back and criticize … to take potshots,” said Los Altos Hills Mayor Gary Waldeck of the report. “The intent was to actively participate independently … to offer these ideas as a partner.”
Commissioned by Los Altos and Los Altos Hills with a $4,000 financial contribution from each city, the report examines emissions-reduction measures that Lehigh is or plans to implement, and identifies whether other cost-effective strategies could mitigate the emissions.
The idea for the study emerged after the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) asked local governments for suggestions.
In the report, consultants from Andover Technology outline how much newly installed or proposed emissions controls at Lehigh could reduce the emission of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and particulate matter. The consultants project that Lehigh’s recently installed hydrated lime injection system and proposed noncatalytic reduction system could reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 50 percent on average.
“I think there’s good news in this for the community, and it’s not as bleak as expected,” said Margo Sidener, president and CEO of Breathe California of the Bay Area. “Many regulations will be met, but the company has many things they could do.”
Among the recommendations are mixing air technology and using natural-gas kilns. The report notes that Lehigh’s 2010 emissions rates for particulate matter were already well below BAAQMD’s established limit, and that a continuous emissions monitoring system would ensure that irregular discharge increases are detected and addressed quickly in the case of equipment failure or other unforeseen events.
“Lehigh is always exploring new ways to reduce emissions through its domestic and global research capabilities,” said Tim Matz, director of environmental affairs for Lehigh, in an email response to the Town Crier’s inquiry.
Despite the proactive tone of the Breathe California report, some local residents and community organizations continue to worry about the environmental impact of the plant and quarry on air and water quality.
A Notice of Violation filed against Lehigh for the company’s failure to submit waste discharge Jan. 22 by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board added fuel to the fire.
Dan Belik, rule development manager for BAAQMD, noted that the district’s recently updated regulations for cement plants are the most stringent in the country. He said the district closely monitors emissions and enforces regulations at Lehigh and across the Bay Area.
Sidener distributed the report to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Lehigh, and said it is already attracting notice.
“We’re looking forward to a dialogue moving forward,” said Belik in response to the new report. “It reinforces what we’ve done.”
Report stakeholders have scheduled a meeting with the Air Quality Management District to discuss how the report might inform decision-making moving forward.
“We want to begin a collaborative relationship,” Waldeck said, “to show that someone on the outside can in effect help the district come up with just a little bit extra that doesn’t cost so much but can make a difference for us in the long run.”
To access emissions data from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s mobile air monitoring station at Monta Vista Park, visit baaqmd.gov/Divisions/Technical-Services/Special-Projects/Cupertino.aspx.