Cement Emissions Controls Could Kill Jobs

FEB. 14, 2012


William Shakespeare wrote a farcical play, “Much Ado About Nothing.” California is apparently acting out Shakespeare’s play in Tehachapi where the Lehigh Cement Company plant produced nearly nothing of mercury to the alarm of environmentalists, regulators, and the mainstream media.

Annual Mercury Emissions

Source No. Metric Tons Percent
Total   emitted globally per year 7,527 100   percent
Total   emitted by nature 5,207 69   percent
Total   emitted by man 2,320 31   percent
Total   emitted by cement plants 236 3.1   percent
Total   emitted by Tehachapi cement plant in 2010 0.395   or 872 lbs. 0.005   percent
Source:   http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/10/4719/2010/acpd-10-4719-2010.pdf

The 872 pounds  — or about one third of a ton — of mercury emitted at the Lehigh cement plant in 2010 is:

* 0.005 percent of the world’s total per year;

* 0.001 percent of the total emitted in the world by man;

* 0.25 percent of the total emitted in North America by man;

* 0.17 percent of all the mercury emitted by cement plants in the world.

And mercury in the air doesn’t stay where it is emitted, whether from a cement plant, a wildfire, a volcano or an environmentally protected chaparral groundcover that blankets much of California.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one third of all mercury emissions generated within the United States are deposited within the country.  So take the 0.005 percent of mercury emissions emitted at the Lehigh cement plant and reduce it by two thirds to an even more minuscule number.   Forget the numbers for a moment:  the Lehigh cement plant emits an incredibly tiny amount of mercury into the air compared to global or national emissions.  It is much to do about almost nothing.

Regulators Gone Wild

As chemist Richard Trzupek writes in his book, “Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry,” “When compared to the background mercury from both natural sources of mercury deposition and other global sources of man-made mercury emissions (mainly from China), little is to be gained from a practical standpoint by further reducing mercury emissions from power plants in the United States. Yet the requirements to do so move forward, and the Obama administration has proposed the most draconian cuts in mercury power plants ever considered, reductions that will be enormously expensive to realize, if, indeed, the goals can be met at all.”   Mercury emitted from the Lehigh Cement Plant is much ado about next to nothing.

Trzupek writes there is no such thing as man-made mercury.  “Man does not produce mercury, we relocate it,” he said.   The concern is that the Lehigh Cement Plant is relocating too much mercury to waterways, where fish and other wildlife can retain it.  One of the largest sources of mercury exposure by man is from eating fish.

The concern of the U.S. EPA is that the Lehigh Cement Plant “produced” the most mercury of any cement plant in California and the second highest of all cement plants in the United States.

New Obama ‘Near Zero Emissions’ Mercury Standard

At Lehigh, a coal-fired power plant is used to cook limestone mined from nearby to produce cement; mercury escapes into the air.  In 2010, 872 pounds of mercury were emitted at Lehigh.  Under new rules proposed by the Obama administration, plants will be banned from emitting more than 55 pounds of mercury per million tons of cement produced.  The cement industry says it will cost $3.4 billion and force the closure of some cement plants to comply with the new rules.  The Lehigh cement plant employs about 100 people.

Reflecting what can only be called hysteria or maliciousness, environmental activist Jane Williams has been fighting for years against eight cement plant kilns operating in Kern and San Bernardino counties.  She says that such cement plants are “out of control.”

Tehachapi Mayor Ed Grimes says the air pollution was once “outrageous,” but now is cleaner than it once was.  Grimes has a potential self-interest in his alarmism. He is head of the Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District.  Grimes alleges that pollution from the Lehigh cement plant is the source of his daughter’s multiple sclerosis.  But the National Multiple Sclerosis Society reportedly says there is no evidence that exposure to heavy metals like mercury cause multiple sclerosis. The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown but is associated with lack of vitamin D, which can be obtained from natural sunlight or diet.

The Lehigh cement plant was originally constructed to provide cement for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, built by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to provide water to Southern California.

Cement industry spokesperson Andy O’Hare said 18 cement plants could be forced to shut down nationally and 3,000 to 4,000 jobs would be lost because of the Obama administration’s new rules.  O’Hare points out that shutting down domestic cement plants will just transfer those jobs to China, where there are no comparable pollution standards.

Mercury has been found to have been deposited in Antarctic ice over the past 650,000 years, or before industrialization.  Mercury is absorbed from the air by water, rocks, soil and trees.  Human bodies evolved with immune systems that include certain proteins and antioxidants to protect from potential contaminants. There is 200 million tons of mercury in the ocean, but it is not dangerous because it has not been converted to a dangerous form, such as methylmercury.

Selenium, also a heavy metal, is found to have a strong attraction to mercury molecules that protects fish and people against the excess buildup of methylmercury.  Methylmercury is the biologically active and more dangerous form of mercury.

Ironically, in San Gabriel Valley the U.S. EPA is trying to remove selenium from river water as potentially dangerous to animal life.

Mercury is Element for Class Warfare

For the purpose of such an unrealistic public policy as the Obama administration’s “almost zero” or “nearly close to zero” mercury emission standard, one must look deeper.  As U.C. Berkeley political scientist Aaron Wildavsky once observed in his book, “Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers,” one must look at what form of social organization is being attacked and what form is being defended.

Ever since the New Deal of the 1930s, jobs programs have been created that lacked a demonstrable public purpose other than the jobs created. With the Obama administration’s new mercury rules, what is being defended is the public sector at the expense of the private sector.

If the jobs from cement production end up being sent overseas, that’s no matter as long as public-sector jobs in America are expanded or preserved.

Another name for this is “class warfare.” And that’s much ado about something.

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