Titan Cement has injunction lifted

The greased pig slips away again:

A freeze on the state's review of the project's air permit had been issued this summer as environmentalists challenged whether the project's use of public money in the form of $4.5 million worth of local and state incentives should trigger the more stringent review process required under the N.C. Environmental Policy Act, otherwise known as SEPA.

But Carolinas Cement, Titan's local subsidiary, announced in November that it would decline the incentive funds. That, Wake County Superior Judge Donald Stephens ruled, removed the SEPA requirement.

Taking SEPA off the table is a setback for environmentalists opposing this toxic nightmare, but there are some new realities facing Titan in 2011:

State Air Quality spokesman Tom Mather said his division would now proceed with its review of Titan's permit application.

However, he added that the agency would require additional information from the company to meet new federal and state guidelines that have come into effect since the application was filed, especially with the start of the new year.

They include new regulations for mercury and greenhouse gases – stricter standards that Titan has said it will meet.

Meeting those (new) standards won't be easy:

While the regulations issued Monday are slightly less stringent than the standards first proposed in 2009, they are much lower than the 263 pounds of annual mercury emissions Titan would be permitted to release under existing regulations.

According to the final rules, Titan's plant will only be allowed to release 21 pounds of mercury per million tons of clinker, the cooked stone product used to make cement. The plant proposed for Castle Hayne is expected to produce 2.19 million tons of clinker per year, which means the mercury limit will be roughly 46 pounds each year.

Titan officials have said they are researching technology to reduce the plant's mercury emissions, but have not said what methods they are considering.

They're going to have to say it, in detail, in their new permit application, and those details will need to bear up under scientific scrutiny. And considering the position of the Portland Cement Association, those modifications to the process are bound to be both innovative and costly:

"The NESHAP emission limits are very low and will not be achievable by a number of facilities. We are concerned that the rule presents a significant threat to the continued viability of many cement companies, high paying jobs at cement facilities and the local communities."

Although I'm not an expert, Titan's initial permit application didn't appear to vary greatly from standard Portland-style plant designs. Unless there are some radical modifications to the new application, whatever reductions in emissions they project will be questionable at best, and need to be treated as such.


Public opinion

If I were in the Wilmington area, I wouldn't count on regulators on this one.

The hard fact is, this cement plant and the specific location are in fundamental conflict from an environmental point of view. Building a plant that emits mercury next to a freaking river is simply and purely insane.

Next to a freaking river

that is already seriously impaired by mercury is even more insane.

And just to give people an idea of how many miles of NC rivers are already impaired:

Attainment Status Miles Percent of Assessed

Good 3,502.04 49.47
Threatened .00 .00
Impaired 3,577.56 50.53

Total Miles Assessed 7,079.60 100.00

If you put all those impaired rivers end to end, it would be farther than the flight distance from Raleigh to Anchorage, Alaska. This is what we've already done to our rivers.