Communities Ask Court for Protection from Toxic Air Pollution

Cement plants should start cleaning up now


Jessica Hodge, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5201


Jim Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5214


Jim Schermbeck, Downwinders at Risk, TX, (806) 787-6567


Jennifer Swearingen, Montanans Against Toxic Burning, MT, (406) 586-6067


Jane Williams, Sierra Club, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, CA, (661) 510-3412


William Freese, Huron Environmental Activist League, MI, (989) 464-2689


Allie Sheffield, PenderWatch & Conservancy, NC, (910) 382-4677


Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear River Watch, NC, (910) 762-5606

Today, environmental and community groups asked a federal court to stay a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to weaken and delay Clean Air Act protection against toxic pollution from cement plants. By the agency’s own calculations, the delay will cause between 1,920 and 5,000 avoidable deaths and will allow cement plants to release an additional 32,000 pounds of mercury into the environment.

Cement plant in Midlothian, TX. The city is considered the cement capital of the country.  (Samantha Bornhorst)

The groups seeking relief are Cape Fear River Watch, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Downwinders at Risk, Friends of Hudson, Huron Environmental Activist League, Montanans Against Toxic Burning, PenderWatch & Conservancy, and Sierra Club, all of which have members who live and work in close proximity to cement plants and have suffered from cement plants’ excessive pollution for many years. Earthjustice filed the stay motion on their behalf in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Read the groups’ motion.

Cement plants are among the nation’s worst polluters, emitting vast quantities of particulate matter, mercury, lead, and other hazardous air pollutants.

“As if gutting and delaying the rule were not bad enough, EPA has essentially created a compliance shield for the industry, making it impossible for citizens to hold facilities accountable for their toxic emissions. These changes in the cement rule are irresponsible and reckless,” said Jennifer Swearingen, of Montanans Against Toxic Burning.

“Los Angeles is ringed by cement plants, and three of them operate near my home in Rosamond,” said Jane Williams, of Sierra Club and Desert Citizens Against Pollution. “The pollution from these plants hurts the people in this community and robs us of the outdoor lifestyle we came here to enjoy. We can’t wait two more years to get relief from these plants’ pollution. I don’t want anyone in these communities to be among the people this pollution is going to sicken and kill.”

A cement plant shadows an elementary school in Midlothian, TX.  (Becky Bornhorst)

Midlothian, Texas is considered the cement capital of the United States. Jim Shermbeck, of Downwinders at Risk, is working to keep these plants from ruthlessly polluting. “The EPA seems to have learned nothing from having cement plants exploited as inadequate hazardous waste incinerators. As cement plants are once again becoming the nation’s Dispos-All, and new wastes are generating new emissions, the Agency is weakening air pollution controls and making it easier for cement kilns to poison their neighbors. It was wrong to turn kiln into incinerators in the 1980s and it’s wrong to try and do so again in the 21st century—especially accompanied by a roll back in regulations,” Schermbeck said.

In North Carolina, groups are fighting a massive proposed cement plant.“A gigantic foreign cement company wants to build one of the world’s biggest plants here,” said Allie Sheffield, of PenderWatch and Conservancy, a group that works to protect the coastal ecosystem in Pender County, North Carolina. “If this plant is built, EPA’s new rule will let it emit twice as much lead, arsenic, and particulate matter into our air and waters. At this point, I have to ask—why do they call it the Environmental Protection Agency?”

William Freese, of Huron Environmental Activist League, lives near what the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory lists as the dirtiest cement plant in North America for point source pollution. “This makes one wonder how the EPA, in violation of U.S. Court of Appeals’ order, can allow this company to do keep polluting for two more years. By the time they get around to finally doing what’s right, they won’t have any environment to protect,” Freese said.

“Federal law required EPA to put limits on this pollution more than a decade ago,” Earthjustice attorney James Pew said. “But under one administration after another, the agency has refused to put limits in place. Real people suffer as a result of EPA’s scofflaw behavior, and now they are going to court to say ‘enough is enough.’”

In Longmont, Colorado, particulate pollution and mercury from the Cemex Lyons cement plant poisons nearby residents. Read the story of one of the neighbors of the cement plant, a 74-year old grandfather named Richard Cargill, who has been trying to clean up the pollution from the Cemex plant for over a decade.

Additional Background Information:

The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act required EPA to limit cement plant’s emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as mercury. In 2000, a federal court had to order EPA to set these standards after the agency refused to do so.

In 2010, in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of community groups living in the shadow of cement plants, EPA finally set the standards that the Clean Air Act had required it to set more than a decade before. These standards would have significantly reduced cement plants’ emissions of soot, mercury, lead, benzene and other toxic pollutants by September of this year.

Rather than acting to clean up their pollution, cement companies attacked EPA’s new rule in court and in Congress. The attacks failed. The court denied their request to vacate or delay the standards, and legislative efforts to do the same failed to gain support on the Hill.

In 2013, however, the EPA voluntarily gave the cement industry the very relief it had failed to get in court or in Congress. It delayed emission reductions that were already more than a decade overdue for another two years, until 2015. Additionally, EPA weakened particulate matter standards and eliminated requirements that would have required cement plants to monitor and report their emissions to the public.

View a map of all the nation’s cement kilns:

View larger map.

Additional Resources

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