Representative John Carter has a funny way of expressing his concern sometimes.
One of the first things he did at the start of the new Congress was to use an obscure parliamentary maneuver to repeal Clean Air Act emission limits for U.S. cement plants put into effect this last September.
This drastic and urgent measure was made necessary, the congressman said, because these pollution limits were going to result in nothing less than the collapse of the entire American cement industry.
Based on his extreme remedy, you could surmise that these Clean Air Act standards have been a top priority of Rep. Carter. But in fact, the 13-year-old struggle to get the EPA to do its job and finally issue these air pollution limits was of little concern to the congressman before January.
He filed no brief in the lawsuits that citizens had to pursue to get the pollution limits written. When the proposed limits were open to public comment for almost two years, the representative never wrote a letter opposing them, never spoke at any one of three public hearings, including one in Washington, and another in Dallas. He never even issued a press release.
During those 13 years, the American cement industry used the same apocalyptic Chicken Little language Rep. Carter uses now to justify his “House Joint Resolution 9.” Still, the congressman did not act.
Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a cement plant in his district. You read that right. The congressman who’s leading the charge to repeal the results of a 13-year-old nationwide fight to reduce deadly air pollution from cement plants doesn’t have a single kiln in his district.
My concern about these limits goes a little deeper than Rep. Carter’s.
I live in a town that has more cement kiln smokestacks per square mile than any other in Texas. Until last year, four of them were permitted to burn hazardous wastes. Five others burn tires. The sixth just requested to burn plastics and all the non-steel parts of cars.
Over the last 20 years, these kilns have spewed almost a billion pounds of air pollution into the skies above my family’s home, including Mercury, Lead, Benzene and Soot. Exactly the kinds of toxic air pollution reduced by the limits Rep. Carter now wants to permanently repeal.
Over the last decade, I’ve held hands with more neighbors than I can count as they tell stories of cancer, upper respiratory diseases, and asthma that come without medical explanation. I wrote letters supporting the pollution limits, as did most Americans who took the trouble to comment at all. I testified at public hearings. I lobbied legislators. The local citizens group I joined was one of those that had filed the original lawsuit.
According to the EPA, over 2,500 lives will be saved each year by these air pollution standards. Reducing cement kiln soot pollution alone will prevent 17,000 cases of asthma, 1,500 heart attacks, and 1,000 emergency room visits.
Mercury is a know neurotoxin that affects a child’s learning and motor skills. As little as 1/24th of an ounce of Mercury can contaminate a 20-acre lake and all the fish in it. Cement plants are the nation’s third largest source of Mercury pollution. The limits that Rep. Carter wants to eliminate will reduce Mercury pollution from cement plants by 16,000 pounds a year, or 92 percent. You’d think it’d be pretty hard for a congressman to be pro-Mercury poisoning these days, but Rep. Carter is fearless.
It turns out that reports of the cement industry’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Far from ruining it, the Portland Cement Association says that domestic cement production will increase by 50 percent by 2015, even though the air pollution limits will have been in place for two years by then.
The limits are based on top-performing cement plants operating right now, so nothing is being required that isn’t already being achieved by some American plants. The only difference is that all cement kilns will now have to implement best practices. Surrounded by 10 kilns, some more than 50 years old, I think my family and I deserve that.
After 13 years of doing everything our political system required of us, and then some, my fellow citizens and I won the battle over these new pollution limits fair and square. And now Rep. Carter, long after the fact and with absolutely no interest in the debate that’s already taken place, wants to junk the whole thing just like that.
That isn’t Democracy. It’s usurpation.
I fought hard to protect my family, Congressman. Keep your hands off my Clean Air Act standards.
Alexandra Allred is a writer who lives in Midlothian Texas with her husband and three children. Her latest book, “Swingman: What a Difference a Decade Makes,” chronicles the life of a Ft. Worth fireman and her own struggle to come to terms with where she lives. She is also a Downwinders at Risk board member, a citizens clean air group based in Dallas/Fort Worth.