About Air and Water

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

TXI to shut down highest-polluting cement kilns in Midlothian

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS - The Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2010

TXI will permanently shut down its four oldest, highest-polluting cement kilns in Midlothian and will stop burning hazardous waste as fuel, the company said Tuesday.

The Dallas-based company’s announcement ends an environmental battle that has raged in North Texas for decades.

TXI, formally known as Texas Industries, always insisted that the practice of fueling its oldest kilns with other companies’ waste was safe, but environmentalists maintained that it spread toxic pollution across the region.

TXI said it will continue to operate its newest kiln, which uses a different process and burns coal and natural gas as fuel. That kiln, which began operating in 2001, also emits less pollution than the old kilns, the oldest of which dates from 1960.

A longtime campaigner against North Texas cement plants’ air pollution hailed TXI’s announcement as a major victory for public health.

“This is a landmark day,” said Sue Pope of Midlothian, who founded the North Texas clean-air group Downwinders at Risk after researching TXI’s emissions. “I’ve been doing some crying today. Words can’t really describe how good I feel.”

TXI said the decision was based on its desire to boost efficiency in preparation for a recovery in the North Texas construction market. Improvements planned for its remaining kiln will let the Midlothian plant expand production, company spokesman David Perkins said.

TXI wanted “to find a way to operate in the most energy and fuel-efficient manner, as well as from an emissions standpoint,” Perkins said.

The four older kilns have been idle since late 2008, a response to a downturn in demand for cement. TXI does not expect to reduce its Midlothian workforce, currently about 170, because of Tuesday’s decision, Perkins said.

He said new federal rules governing toxic air emissions from cement kilns did not contribute to the decision. The rules are expected to become final in August and will take effect in the next three years.

Counting all five of its kilns, TXI has been the largest of three cement kilns in Midlothian. The other plants in the northern Ellis County city are owned by Kansas-based Ash Grove Cement, with three kilns, and Swiss firm Holcim, with two kilns.

Midlothian became a center for the cement industry because of extensive limestone deposits. Yet it also became the site of one of the country’s biggest environmental fights.

Federal law allows some cement kilns to burn hazardous waste as fuel to create the high heat required to make cement. TXI is the only company that has burned hazardous waste in Midlothian in recent years.

Environmentalists across the country and in North Texas said burning massive volumes of chemical waste needlessly endangered the public.

The cement industry and federal regulators called the process a safe way to destroy waste and to recover its energy content.

The practice also let cement companies cut fuel costs and essentially go into the waste-treatment business, although the market for hazardous-waste disposal has suffered as companies have reduced the amount they produce.

TXI said Tuesday that while its hazardous-waste enterprise had yielded economic benefits, “the dynamics of this market have significantly changed and are no longer applicable to TXI’s future operational strategy.”

The company said it would immediately give up its hazardous-waste permit.

TXI’s departure from the waste business does not end all environmental disputes regarding the Midlothian cement industry. Kilns there remain North Texas’ biggest industrial sources of nitrogen oxides, which produce regional ozone, or smog.

Environmentalists have pressed regulators, so far without success, to require the use of pollution-control technology that would slash emissions from the Midlothian kilns.

While that effort continues, Jim Schermbeck, field organizer for Downwinders at Risk, said the permanent shutdown of TXI’s oldest units would remove four major sources of regional air pollution.

TXI’s remaining unit is among the cleanest-burning kilns in Texas, he said.

“They should be congratulated for making the right choice,” Schermbeck said. “I am delighted.”

Read more in the Dallas Morning News

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