This is one of those weeks when it seems like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should remove “environmental” from its name and simply call itself the Protection Agency. Protecting polluters often seems to be its primary goal.
In this case, environmentalists sickened by the toxins being spewed into the air by cement manufacturers spent the better part of two decades hammering the EPA for tougher pollution rules. Countless meetings and public hearings were held across the country over the years, such as when 80 speakers testified in 2009 at an EPA hearing in Fort Worth.
Years of blood, sweat, tears, and lawsuits by residents resulted in new rules designed to reduce the emission of pollutants at cement kilns like those in nearby Midlothian, where a large concentration of cement manufacturers has been dosing the air near the plant — and across Fort Worth — for years. But on Friday, EPA officials made a surprise announcement. The agency will hold an Aug. 16 public hearing from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Arlington City Hall to discuss a change in direction: delaying implementation of those same rules for two more years.
“Getting left at the regulatory altar by the Obama EPA after a 20-year-struggle was cruel enough,” said Downwinders at Risk director Jim Schermbeck. “But 13 days notice in the middle of summer for a policy that’s been delayed for two decades? That’s disgraceful.”
Environmentalists don’t know what led to the abrupt reversal. “That’s the most frustrating part of this whole thing,” Schermbeck said. “There is no court order that mandates this. The EPA took the most extreme measure.”
Margaret DeMoss, a Fort Worth resident, spoke in favor of more stringent rules at the hearing in 2009. She vows to show up again at the Aug. 16 meeting.
“The EPA should be ashamed,” she said. “They’re taking away rules that had already passed review, and it’s obvious that the agency’s tactics are an attempt to avoid public input by scheduling hearings with little notice during an inconvenient time of year.”
Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1991 would have implemented more stringent pollution limits for mercury and other toxic substances being released by cement kilns across the country. But the rules were delayed. And delayed. Lawsuits by environmentalists finally prompted new rules in 2010 that were lauded as a major advance in reducing kiln emissions. The rules were awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature so implementation could start in 2013. But the administration’s Office of Management and Budget pulled the rules off the table and did a little tinkering. Now the rules are watered down and their enforcement delayed until 2015. Schermbeck said the EPA’s timing and short notice for the hearing appears to be designed to sneak it past the public.
“They’re trying real hard not to let anybody notice,” he said. “Our job is to make people notice. We want to make a big ruckus. If nobody shows up, EPA can say nobody gave a damn.”
If you want to speak at the Aug. 16 hearing, notify EPA coordinator Pam Garrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 919-541-7966.