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Once showcased for SLC "forum," Texas plant now faces heavy fines

* SLC flew local "Community Forum" to visit plant in Summer 2000

* Texas regulators propose $223,125 penalty to be voted on Wednesday

* Agency finds 15 major violations, including emissions of five key pollutants above permitted levels

* As in Columbia County, parent company promised in 1997 that new echnology would result in "cleaner air" despite plant expansion

HUDSON, NY -- A plant showcased two summers ago by St. Lawrence Cement for the benefit of a local, company-sponsored Community Forum is now to be fined over $220,000 next week by Texas regulators for 15 different violations.

The draft order includes a proposed $223,125 fine for violations including excess emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter (PM) above permitted levels.

These five regulated pollutants are the same key pollutants which have been at the center of debate about the SLC Greenport proposal.

Also among the many violations cited by TNRCC: that the Midlothian plant has not maintained pollution controls; reported "erroneous" emissions numbers for 9 years; improperly operated Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMs); exceeded clinker production limits; failed opacity tests; failed to file required reports; failed to meet performance specifications; failed to pay required regulatory fees; and failed to meet Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) standards which protect regional air quality.

Relevant to Columbia County controversy

St. Lawrence Cement flew members of "The Forum," as well as local reporters, to the Holcim-owned Midlothian plant in August 2000, touting it as a model for their proposed coal-fired facility for Greenport and Hudson, NY.

Michigan-based Holcim US is an American subsidiary of Swiss-based Holcim (formerly Holdberbank), which also created and controls the Canadian-based St. Lawrence Cement.

"SLC linked this plant to their Greenport project when they paid to send members of our community to Midlothian," said Friends of Hudson executive director Sam Pratt. "These draft penalties represent a near-total failure by this company to live up to their promises to Texans. And those promises are nearly identical to the ones SLC has made to our community. Holcim made the same public relations claims in Texas that their subsidiary is now flogging here in the Hudson Valley. Now Texans are learning the hard way that this company can't be trusted to keep its word."

In January of 2002, The Dallas Morning News reported that regulators had begun investigating the Holcim plant for failure to meet a 1997 pledge to reduce regional air pollution through technology improvements. In exchange for this investment and promise, the company was granted permits to double cement production at the facility. "We can double production, executives of an Ellis County cement plant told Texas regulators in 1997, and still cut our air pollution in half," the newspaper reported, but "Nearly two years after completing its expansion, the plant's smog-causing emissions have gone up instead of down."

With this news, Greenport project opponents noted that SLC had chosen this Texas plant as a showcase for their local intentions -- as well as noting the similarity of the pollution reduction claims made for both facilities. In mailings and advertising campaigns, the company has claimed that they will make Hudson Valley air cleaner while increasing production by 3.5 times over their existing Catskill facility.

Vote scheduled for next Wednesday

According to an agenda posted on the website of The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC), a meeting is scheduled on the morning of August 21st to vote on the proposed penalties. Agenda item #11 is a vote on Docket No. 2001-0337-AIR-E, whether to assess "administrative penalties and requiring certain actions of Holcim (Texas) Limited Partnership in Ellis County" for air quality violations pursuant to Texas Health & Safety Code as well as violations of TNRCC rules.

This would not be the first substantial penalty paid by the Midlothian plant. In 1993, the Texas Air Control Board approved a $135,000 fine for Holcim (then Holnam) for emitting 50% more sulfur dioxide than allowed by its permit. At the time, the plant manager complained to the Dallas media that the fine "was within the top 1 percent of all the fines that have ever been levied by the Air Control Board in this sort of matter." The proposed new fine is even higher.

SLC has appealed judges' call to investigate Holcim track record

In December 2001, two New York State administrative law judges instructed the Department of Environmental Conservation to investigate further into the track record of St. Lawrence Cement's parent company -- an order which SLC has appealed to DEC Commissioner Erin Crotty.

Now, the Midlothian plant appears likely to go to the front of a dossier of violations compiled by plant opponents and submitted to New York State's own regulators.

"While this vindicates our track record argument, we're concerned for the folks we know in Midlothian who have to live near this plant," added the group's vice president Peter Jung, who has communicated extensively with Midlothian residents. "If there is anyone left who trusts St. Lawrence's claims about cleaner air, this ought to be the last straw."

Friends of Hudson members Lynn Davis and Rudy Wurlitzer also traveled independently to Midlothian in 1999, returning with video of the facility as well as personal interviews with residents who reported high incidences of cancer near the plant as well as illnesses among farm animals. Friends of Hudson also brought former Texas air control officer Neil Carman to Hudson in 1999 to discuss his experience monitoring cement plants there.