The New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo Announces Agreement With One Of The Nation's Largest Cement Companies To Slash Air Pollution Emissions

ALBANY, NY (January 21, 2010) - Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that New York, leading a coalition of 12 states, have joined the U.S. Department of Justice in reaching a settlement with Lafarge North America, Inc. and its subsidiaries, one of the nation’s largest cement companies, requiring it to slash its air pollution emissions. LaFarge operates 13 cement plants nationwide, including a facility in Ravena, Albany County.

Under today’s settlement, Lafarge will eliminate a total of over 9,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 26,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year from its plants, including those in upwind states whose pollution impacts New York.

“This settlement underscores New York’s commitment to holding companies fully accountable for contributing to smog, soot, and acid rain pollution in our state." said Attorney General Cuomo. "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.”

The settlement commits the Ravena facility to either constructing a new facility - as the company has proposed - or to retrofitting the existing facility with aggressive air pollution reduction technology. In either case, Ravena’s air pollution emissions will be cut by roughly 2,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide each year - equivalent to reductions of more than 30% and 80%, respectively.

The settlement also requires Lafarge to pay a civil penalty and provide funding for environmental benefit projects totaling $5.07 million, with $3.38 million of that amount going to the federal government and the coalition of states receiving $1.69 million. Of that amount, New York State will receive $490,000 to fund energy efficiency and pollution reduction mitigation projects in communities near the Ravena plant.

Today’s settlement will also result in reductions in mercury emissions due to the required installation of advanced pollution controls on newly constructed or retrofitted facilities. In addition, as a result of a January 2009 agreement that Cuomo, leading a nine-state coalition, reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Agency is expected to adopt in June 2010 strict, new limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic pollutants that Ravena and other cement plants can emit into the air.

Emissions from Lafarge's Ravena cement plant, and those located in upwind states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, contribute to smog and soot pollution in the vicinity of Ravena as well as in other areas of New York. These pollutants threaten human health and are directly linked to increases in asthma attacks and lung diseases. They also are primary contributors to acid rain, which has severely damaged lakes, forests, and wildlife throughout New York’s Adirondack and Catskill regions.

In 2003, an investigation of LaFarge’s operations by the EPA found evidence that the company, in violation of New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the federal Clean Air Act (CAA), had modified its facilities and increased air pollution at its cement plants nationwide without installing required pollution controls. Since that time, the Attorney General’s office, leading a coalition of 12 states, has joined the federal government in extensive negotiations with Lafarge aimed at settling potential claims related to these violations.

Today’s settlement resolves these potential claims, requiring LaFarge to make deep, permanent cuts in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at its cement plants nationwide by installing advanced pollution controls on existing plants, or by constructing new facilities that emit less pollution. At Ravena, Lafarge has applied for a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to construct a new cement plant - equipped with state-of-the-art pollution controls - in order to comply with the settlement’s requirements. All of Lafarge’s facilities, including the Ravena plant, are also required to install technologies within the next 12 months that continuously monitor nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions so that pollution reductions can be tracked and confirmed on an ongoing basis.

The federal government estimates that, all told, Lafarge will have to spend up to $170 million to meet the requirements of today’s settlement.

Elyse Griffin and Elyse Kunz, Co-founders of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions (CASE), said, "This is a great step forward because cement plants have been overlooked for far too long as a major source of air pollution. NOX and SO2 are respiratory irritants that can contribute to or aggravate existing asthma and other respiratory conditions, with children and the elderly being most sensitive to adverse heath affects. We are grateful for this critical action taken by Attorney General Cuomo toward protecting the public health of New Yorkers.”

Susan Falzon, Director of Friends of Hudson, said, “With today's announcement Attorney General Cuomo's office has again shown critical leadership on behalf of clean air in New York State and around the country. In accepting this settlement. Lafarge is agreeing to take significant actions to bring operations in Ravena and elsewhere into compliance with stricter more protective standards for which Friends of Hudson and others have been advocating for years.”

The case being settled today is U.S. v. Lafarge, and was submitted to the federal district court for the Southern District of Illinois. There will be a 30-day public comment period on the settlement. Joining New York in the settlement were the states of Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality , South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, andWashington State Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Attorney General Cuomo has made enforcement of NSR provisions of the CAA a centerpiece of his fight for clean air in New York. For example, late last month, Cuomo announced that New York and a coalition of states, joining the U.S. Department of Justice and environmental groups, had reached a settlement with Duke Energy - one of the country’s largest power producers and a contributor to smog and soot pollution in New York - that requires the company to make dramatic reductions in this pollution and pay $400,000 to New York to fund projects that reduce air pollution and conserve energy.

The case was handled by Senior Counsel and Assistant Attorney General Robert Rosenthal. Staff from the New York State Department of Conservation assisted with the case.

 

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