A Clean Sweep

| Published on February 16, 2012

By Therese Dunphy

Settlements on alleged Clean Air Act (CAA) and Clean Water Act (CWA) violations are cleaning the pockets of a growing number of construction materials producers. In recent months, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have reached big money agreements with several producers. Although cement producers have been hardest hit, stormwater violations spell concerns for aggregate operators.

The first large settlement was announced on Nov. 29, 2011, when Lafarge North America Inc. agreed to resolve alleged CWA violations at 21 stone, sand, gravel, asphalt, and ready-mixed concrete facilities in five states. The company will implement a nationwide evaluation and compliance program at 189 sites, pay a $740,000 penalty, and implement two supplemental environmental projects to resolve the issue. According to the EPA, the evaluation system will include a compliance review of each facility’s permit, an inventory of all discharges to U.S. waters, and identification of all best management practices in place. The company must also identify an environmental vice president, a minimum of two environmental directors, and an onsite operations manager at each facility. The EPA believes Lafarge will spend an estimated $8 million over the next five years to develop and maintain this program. The supplemental projects involve completing conservation easements to protect 166 acres in two states, with the land value estimated at $2.95 million.

In mid-December, CalPortland Co. agreed to pay a $1.425 million penalty to resolve alleged CAA violations at its cement plant in Mojave, Calif. The company will also invest approximately $1.3 million in pollution controls to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The annual operating cost of the equipment is estimated at $500,000.

As 2011 came to a close, Essroc Cement Co. agreed to a $1.7 million penalty, as well as an investment of approximately $33 million in pollution control technology to resolve alleged CAA violations at six of its Portland cement plants. The company also agreed to pay an additional $745,000 to mitigate the effects of past excess emissions. Those funds will be used to replace old engines in several off-road vehicles at its plant sites.

According to the latest U.S. Geological Survey estimates, cement production is down 45 percent from 2005, and overall production is at the lowest level since 1982. Similarly, aggregate production fell nearly 40 percent in the last five years. Environmental stewardship is important, but the EPA and DOJ should focus on operational improvements rather than penalties. To these hard hit industries, additional punitive measures could be the proverbial straw that breaks their back.

 

3 Things I Learned from this Issue

1. Frac sand producers are finding success with newer classifying and dewatering systems, page 23.

2. Hard surfacing can return equipment to like-new condition for 25 to 75 percent less than the cost of replacement parts, page 30.

3. Each MSHA district can determine when it will implement pre-assessment conferences, page 40.

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