Holcim cement plant weighs options on federal Clean Air Act violations

August 04, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE |

In the wake of a settlement to resolve violations of the federal Clean Air Act, a spokeswoman for Holcim, which operates a cement manufacturing plant east of Hagerstown, said the company is weighing its options on how to proceed.

“There are a few options that are out there for us,” Holcim spokeswoman Robin DeCarlo said Thursday. “They’re outlined in the consent decree.”

The proposed consent decree, filed July 11 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, allows 30 days for public comment before final court approval, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which announced the settlement.

“Once that comment period has passed or closed, we’ll get that feedback,” DeCarlo said.

The owners of Holcim (US) Inc. and the plant’s former owners, St. Lawrence Cement Co., have agreed to pay a $700,000 civil citation and develop a mitigation project to reduce emissions of various pollutants through the replacement of outdated equipment to comply with federal regulations, the EPA said.

The proposed settlement provides Holcim with three options to achieve compliance, two of which would require the company to make kiln changes at its Security Road plant to lower sulfur dioxide and/or nitrogen oxide emissions by September 2016.

The third option would call for the Hagerstown plant to be shut down and all permits relinquished by Sept. 9, 2015, according to the proposed settlement.

Officials with the EPA and Maryland Department of the Environment said Holcim has until July 2014 to decide which option to pursue.

“It’s quite a lengthy process to get to that point,” DeCarlo said.

Also part of the judgment, Holcim, which employs about 100 people at the Hagerstown plant, will be required to install and operate up-to-date technology to control sulfur-dioxide emissions, and regularly report to the government and operate continuous emissions monitoring.

Possible plant expansion?

An EPA webpage containing information about Holcim’s settlement states that the company “has agreed to invest approximately $20 million or more to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act.”

Washington County officials have had discussions with Holcim representatives in recent months about the company’s future plans, but several county commissioners and an economic development official asked Thursday had few details to share.

Commissioner John F. Barr said Holcim is considering a plant expansion that would resolve its compliance issues with the EPA. It appears the company plans to stay in the county, “which is good news,” Barr said.

“We can’t really share any details at this point because we don’t really know that many details,” he said.

Barr said he met a trio of Holcim officials at the county’s administrative building a couple of weeks ago, when they came to meet with County Administrator Gregory B. Murray, who later shared some information with the five commissioners about his discussions at a closed session.

“It was through the county administrator that the commissioners got whatever information that we have,” Barr said.

Ron Bowers, vice chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, acknowledged that the EDC has talked to Holcim about a possible expansion, but he said he “can’t go into what was discussed.”

“The EDC, with the commissioners, have had a site visit and had some thorough discussions with Holcim, and there’s been other discussions,” Bowers said.

As of Thursday, no building permits or construction plans had been submitted to the county’s Division of Plan Review and Permitting.

Several other commissioners said they had no further knowledge of Holcim’s plans, but Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham recalled company officials talking about wanting to “upgrade and modernize” the plant during an economic development visit several months ago.

“They have a very keen desire to upgrade and expand within our community and make it as safe and environmental friendly as they humanly could,” Callaham said.

Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said he’s heard that Holcim might decide to expand the plant, but he has not been privy to any specific discussions on the matter.

Commissioner William B. McKinley said the last time he spoke with Holcim officials was during the commissioners’ economic development site visit. He said the meeting was attended by several local members of the state delegation, as well as EDC members.

“At that point, (Holcim) seemed hopeful that they were on the right track and doing the right things,” McKinley said.

A phone message seeking comment from Robert P. Mandley, a county business development specialist, was returned Thursday by Assistant County Administrator Sarah L. Sprecher, who said in an email that further questions about Holcim should be directed to Holcim spokeswoman DeCarlo.

Pollution issues

On behalf of the EPA, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint against Holcim and St. Lawrence in April 2011 alleging the companies made illegal modifications to the kiln at the Hagerstown plant, causing increases in sulfur dioxide emissions without proper permitting required by the Clean Air Act.

Modifications included a mid-kiln injection system to allow the use of whole tires as a fuel source. DeCarlo has said the plant still uses tires at the plant.

In addition to sulfur dioxide — which can affect breathing, cause respiratory issues and contribute to acid rain — other pollutants that need to be addressed include nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions, according to the EPA.

The EPA has said that reducing sulfur dioxide emissions will benefit the communities near the facility, specifically those with vulnerable populations and children.

“Air pollution ... can travel significant distances downwind, crossing state lines and creating regionwide health problems,” the EPA said in a news release announcing its proposed settlement with Holcim.

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