It's been an expensive week for the US cement industry in terms of environmental infringements. First, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Cemex has agreed to pay a US$1m fine for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions at its Lyons cement plant in Colorado. Then Lehigh's Glen Falls plant was fined US$50,000 by the state of New York for polluting the Hudson River.
With new NESHAP and MACT environmental regulations from the EPA in place for 2013, one thought that occurs is how long it will take for the new standards to sink in. For example, the lead-time for both of the cases we have reported upon this week was several years at least. The complaint against Cemex referred to a period from 1997 to 2000, when the plant was operated by Southdown. Lehigh's fine arose from an inspection carried out in April 2010.
The EPA hopes that its latest changes will cut US cement industry emissions of mercury by 93%, hydrochloric acid by 96%, particulate matter by 91% and total hydrocarbons by 82%. After years of haggling between the Portland Cement Association and the EPA, even the latest round of regulations received a reprieve until September 2015, with the option to ask for a year's extension. So, if the lead times from the Cemex and Lehigh fines are indicative, contravening cement plants might not be facing fines relating to the current NESHAP or MACT regulations until around 2023 - 2026. Of course by this time, the regulations governing emissions will probably have changed again.
Given the shifting backdrop of US environmental regulations, many of the pertinent environmental presentations at last week's IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement Conference in Orlando, Florida, were of great help to US cement producers. Among these were two presentations by John Kline, who firstly gave an overview on the hot-topic of mercury emissions from cement kilns. He singled out the difficulties in comparing cement kilns to power plants in terms of mercury as cement plants are far more complicated, with more input materials. Kline also delivered a second presentation comparing selective catalytic reduction (SCR) for removal of NOx to selective non-catalytic reduction (SNCR) in cement plants. Those at the conference who attended Carrie Yonley's presentations were given a helpful and concise review of the often-conflicting regulations for cement plants, which she bravely attempted to give in just 16 minutes.
Despite the challenges of adhering to new environmental regulations, the mood at the 55th IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement Conference was one of general optimism for the future of the US cement industry. A full review of the conference can be found here.