N.Y. leads multistate coalition to air pollution settlement with cement company‏

Nick Rees Jan. 21, 2010, 1:45pm

Andrew Cuomo (D)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Legal Newsline) - New York, leading a coalition of 12 states, has joined the U.S. Department of Justice in a settlement with one of the nation's largest cement companies and its subsidiaries to slash air pollution emissions.

Lafarge North America Inc., which operates 13 cement plants nationwide, will eliminate a total of more than 9,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 26,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year from its plants as part of the settlement. The reduction in emissions will include a plant in Ravena, Albany County, New York, and plants upwind of New York whose pollution affects the state.

Emissions from the Ravena cement plant as well as those upwind in Ohio and Pennsylvania contribute to smog and soot pollution in the vicinity of Ravena as well as in other areas of New York. The pollutants threaten human health and have been directly linked to an increase in asthma attacks and lung diseases. The pollutants also are a primary contributor to acid rain.

"This settlement underscores New York's commitment to holding companies fully accountable for contributing to smog, soot, and acid rain pollution in our state." New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said. "Lafarge must eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution each year from its cement plants, and at the same time has plans to modernize the Ravena plant. These improvements will contribute to cleaner air in our state, while positioning the Ravena facility to remain an important local provider of jobs and economic benefits."

Lafarge's Ravena facility, under the settlement, will either be retrofitted with aggressive air pollution reduction technology or, as the company has proposed, a new facility will be constructed. With either option, approximately 2,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide will be cut each year, the equivalent of a 30 percent and 80 percent reduction, respectively.

Lafarge will also pay a civil penalty and provide funding for environmental benefit projects totaling $5.07 million as part of the settlement. The federal government will receive $3.38 million of that total and $1.69 million of it will be paid to the coalition of states. New York will receive $490,000, which will fund energy efficiency and pollution reduction mitigation projects in communities near the Ravena plant.

The settlement also requires Lafarge to install advanced pollution controls on newly constructed or retrofitted facilities to curb mercury emissions. New limits are expected be adopted in June 2010 through a January 2009 agreement reached between Cuomo, leading a nine state coalition, and the U.S. Environmental Agency that would place limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic pollutants that the Ravena and other cement plants can emit into the air.

All told, the federal government estimates Lafarge will spend as much as $170 million to meet the requirements of the settlement, which springs from a 2003 investigation by the EPA into Lafarge's operations. That investigation found that the company was in violation of New Source Review provisions of the federal Clean Air Act and had modified its facilities and increased air pollution at its facilities nationwide without installing required pollution controls.

The other states and agencies taking part in the settlement include Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and Washington State Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

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