American Cement's permit will likely be approved, but public input could keep the company on a tighter leash
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Hours of heated debate probably won't stop a North Valley cement company from operating 24 hours a day and escalating pollution.
The way state statutes are set up, unless a permit request would increase pollution to illegal levels, it’s generally granted. Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, the company that owns American Cement, provided the city's Air Quality Division with air dispersion models. The data shows pollution levels would be within local, state and federal regulations. Those rules allow American Cement to release more than 18 tons of total suspended particulate—basically cement dust—into the air each year.
Unless the division notices something is awry with Grupo Cementos' numbers, the company will more than likely get the green light to increase pollution. Air Quality's Environmental Engineering Manager Isreal Tavarez says he's unaware of any instance in which a company has been denied a permit if its request didn't violate any regulations.
“We can look at additional permit requirements or stricter, more frequent monitoring.”
The Air Quality Division’s Environmental Engineering Manager Isreal Tavarez
All is not lost for those who spent late nights at public information hearings voicing their complaints about the American Cement dispatching plant [“Stone Cold Reception,” July 2-8]. In the last few weeks, there were two well-attended meetings at which residents railed against the company for polluting the North Valley neighborhood it calls home.
Tavarez says those comments will play a role in deciding whether to approve the permit with more conditions that the company must also meet. "We can look at additional permit requirements or stricter, more frequent monitoring," Tavarez says. "That's where the public comments and concerns play in."
We're concerned that all of these negotiations took place without public notification or public participation.
Greater Gardner Vice President David Wood
The division must make its decision by Tuesday, Sept. 15.
Coddling Industry or Rewarding Good Behavior?
The higher-ups in the Greater Gardner Neighborhood Association requested dozens of pages of public documents relating to American Cement. Buried in the mass of information was a "compliance agreement" between Grupo Cementos and Air Quality.
Grupo Cementos audited American Cement after purchasing it in 2008. The Mexican company uncovered several violations that took place before it bought the North Valley transfer station. According to the document, the city opted to fine GCC only $61,000—a fine reduction of more than $200,000. Air Quality says it reduced the penalty because Grupo Cementos didn’t own American Cement at the time of the infractions.
Greater Gardner Vice President David Wood says the agreement should have been announced and the negotiations on the amount of the fine should have been opened up to the public. He also asserts the large fine reduction makes it seem like the division isn't being firm with Grupo Cementos. "It gives the look of the Air Quality Division catering to industry," Wood says. "We're concerned that all of these negotiations took place without public notification or public participation."
Tavarez says the fine reduction took place because Grupo Cementos had nothing to do with the way American Cement was run before it purchased the company. "If you're the new owner and you've demonstrated that you're a solid environmental steward, why should you be penalized for those past infractions?" he asks.
As for why the agreement wasn't announced to the public, Tavarez says that's simply not how Air Quality typically does things. "There's not really a reason," he says. "That's just not a practice that we've done as an agency."