In Show of Recklessness, House Energy and Commerce Committee Passes Polluter Pardon Bills

Bills excuse cement plants, industrial boilers, and waste-burning plants from pollution safeguards


Sam Edmondson, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6705

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed two highly irresponsible bills that, if signed into law, would rob Americans of crucial health protections.

H.R. 2250, which passed by a vote of 36–14, rewrites the Clean Air Act to allow industrial plants across the country to burn tires, plastics, chemical solvents and other industrial wastes in their on-site power plants (known as “industrial boilers”)—without having to control, monitor or report the toxic pollution that results. The bill would also eliminate existing standards for the largest industrial boilers and delay their replacement indefinitely. The bill’s effect: eliminating protections against mercury, arsenic, lead and other health-damaging pollutants generated by thousands of major industrial polluters and encouraging the secret burning of dirty industrial wastes in facilities that are not designed or equipped to burn these wastes safely.

H.R. 2681 would inflict the same damage on the Clean Air Act’s protection against pollution from cement plants, which are among the nation’s worst polluters of any kind. It would eliminate existing control requirements and encourage cement companies—almost all of which are giant foreign conglomerates with little accountability in this country—to burn tires, plastics, and other wastes without controlling or monitoring the resulting pollution. H.R. 2681 passed by a vote of 33–12.

“If H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 are enacted into law, their cost will be borne by Americans across the country, but they will be felt most strongly in the communities that are already overburdened by toxic pollution,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “These are communities where childhood cancer and respiratory disease are already far too common. It is appalling that the committee would take this step without consulting or even considering the people whose lives and families it will harm.”

Allowing and encouraging the secret burning of industrial wastes without controls or monitoring, as both H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 do, would leave communities defenseless against emissions that sicken and kill people. Parents in these communities would be unable to prevent these emissions, hold polluters accountable, or even learn the identity of the pollutants to which they and their children are being exposed. It will move America away from clean energy and stifle the growing recycling industry while doing nothing to preserve jobs.

Eliminating existing standards for cement plants and the largest industrial boilers, as H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 would also do, would cause between 3,400 and 9,000 premature deaths every year due to respiratory disease alone. It would also allow these plants a free pass to emit vast quantities of other toxic pollutants—including mercury, arsenic, lead and chromium—that cause cancer, birth defects, and developmental damage in young children.

“It is remarkable that this Committee has voted to kill and sicken thousands of Americans in the name of jobs without a shred of credible evidence that these bills will create or preserve a single job,” said Pew.

Among the facilities that could evade control and monitoring requirements under H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 are:

  • Chemtrade, Inc. in Beaumont, TX, an environmental justice community that is already badly polluted.  Chemtrade is a chemical plant that burns molten sulfur, sulfuric acid and other industrial wastes. H.R. 2250 would ensure that Chemtrade, Inc. never has to meet Clean Air Act requirements for controlling, monitoring, or reporting its toxic pollution.
  • Commodity Resource & Environmental, Inc. in Kettleman City, CA, a known toxic hotspot. The facility is burning plastic film waste. H.R. 2250 would ensure that Commodity Resource & Environmental, Inc. never has to meet Clean Air Act requirements for controlling, monitoring, or reporting its toxic emissions.
  • Ironside Energy in East Chicago, IN, is burning furnace blast gas to power an industrial steel complex located in a low-income neighborhood with serious air quality problems. H.R. 2250 would ensure that Ironside Energy never has to meet Clean Air Act requirements for controlling, monitoring or reporting its toxic emissions.
  • Viking Energy in Lincoln, MI, is burning creosote-treated railroad ties and wood treated with a chemical called pentachlorophenol. H.R. 2250 would ensure that this plant never has to meet Clean Air Act requirements for controlling, monitoring, or reporting its toxic emissions.
  • Lafarge Cement Plant in Alpena, MI, polluted its area with 312 pounds of mercury in 2009. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality warns against eating fish caught in nearby Lake Besser, a popular fishing spot just one mile to the west of the plant, and other lakes nearby. Lafarge sued the state in 2006 over Michigan’s attempt to regulate the mercury emissions from the plant. Lafarge won the case and continues to emit unhealthy mercury levels.
  • Cemex Inc. Cement Plant in Lyons, CO, hammered this community just north of Boulder with a whopping 1,300-plus pounds of mercury pollution in 2009. The people of this town have been coming down with illnesses for years, and for years citizen groups in the area have been fighting to protect their communities from this plant’s toxic pollution.

"These bills undermine badly-needed health protections," said Stephanie Maddin, associate legislative counsel at Earthjustice. "We hope that Congress has a reality check and works to defeat these bills. The American public wants their leadership to provide clean air, not favors to the polluters who make it dirty."

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