HAGERSTOWN — The Maryland Department of the Environment and an attorney for Holcim each say they’re waiting for the other side to act on an emissions permit request for the company’s Hagerstown cement plant.
About eight years ago, St. Lawrence Cement, which owned the plant at the time, started burning tires in a kiln as part of the cement-making process to help lower the emission of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant.
Attorney William Bumpers — representing Holcim, the current plant owner, and St. Lawrence Cement — said last week that the tire-fuel project unexpectedly elevated the emission level of sulfur dioxide, another air pollutant.
After 18 months to two years of working to reduce sulfur-dioxide emission, St. Lawrence Cement applied for a state permit in 2008, but still hasn’t gotten an answer from the MDE, nearly three years later, according to Bumpers.
The MDE didn’t have a comment in time for a story published in The Herald-Mail Saturday.
However, on Monday, MDE spokesman Jay Apperson wrote in an email that the department only rules on a complete application — which Holcim hasn’t submitted.
Apperson wrote in another email on Tuesday that an application must have an economic analysis of a pollution-control measure and information about the measure’s appropriateness.
“We have not received information from the company that addresses this issue to our satisfaction,” he wrote.
The MDE asked Holcim in February if a certain pollution control in use at another cement plant could be used at the Hagerstown plant on Security Road.
“We’re waiting for them to give us a complete response,” Apperson wrote.
The MDE has a calendar spelling out the proposed processing time for different permit applications.
For a “Prevention of Significant (air quality) Deterioration” permit — what Holcim needs, according to Apperson — the processing time is listed as 14 months.
The MDE said 90 percent of applications are processed within the times listed on the calendar.
Bumpers was surprised to hear Tuesday that the MDE is waiting for Holcim to act. He said the company has provided whatever information the agency has requested.
“I don’t think the application has ever been deemed incomplete,” Bumpers said.
Asked about additional emissions that have resulted from the lagging permit application, Apperson wrote: “We are following our process for the permit application.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, filed a civil complaint against Holcim and St. Lawrence Cement in April, alleging the companies violated the federal Clean Air Act.
The EPA is asking that the Hagerstown plant stop operating until it complies with the law.
The complaint also seeks civil penalties of up to $37,500 a day. The EPA doesn’t specify when the violation began and, therefore, how much the fine would be.
St. Lawrence Cement owned and operated the Hagerstown plant from 1985 until Dec. 31, 2007, according to the complaint. After that, Holcim took over.
Apperson wrote in an email that Maryland and other states started looking several years ago at ways to reduce nitrogen-oxide emission.
Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide contribute to acid rain and particulate matter, which can cause respiratory problems, according to the EPA’s website.
Apperson wrote: “MDE developed a rule requiring cement plants and other large sources to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. The rule gave companies the option of meeting a number (5.1 pounds of nitrogen oxide per ton of clinker) or installing a given technology designed to reduce emissions.”
“Clinker” is a material that’s part of the cement-making process.
Apperson continued: “In this case, the company chose to modify its kiln to implement mid-kiln firing using tires, and they began doing that in October 2003.”
Apperson’s email said emissions at the Hagerstown plant averaged 2,130 tons per year from 2000 to 2003.
Emission totals were 2,103 tons per year in 2004, 1,784 in 2005 and 2,092 in 2006.