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Court Blocks EPA Cement Plant Rules on Concrete Ingredient

December 12, 2011

(Adds case background beginning in fifth paragraph.)

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Environmental Protection Agency rules controlling cement plants’ storage of a substance used in making concrete were temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court.

The Portland Cement Association, an industry trade group, in October argued before the Washington court that new emissions standards are arbitrary and that their adoption violates the federal Clean Air Act.

A three-judge panel today agreed in part, issuing an order blocking rules governing the storage of a cement ingredient known as “clinker” pending further EPA review. While the agency previously conceded it hadn’t given enough notice of the new standards, it refused to delay enforcement, the court said. Other rules were left in place by the judges.

“Because EPA will now be receiving comments for the first time, the standards could likely change substantially,” the panel said. “Thus, industry should not have to build expensive new containment structures until the standard is finally determined.”

The rules, intended to reduce mercury emissions and other cement plant-generated air pollutants, are to be enforced starting in 2013. Industry advocates claim compliance with the regulations may cost $3.4 billion and result in the closure of some facilities.

The EPA has said the cost wouldn’t exceed $950 million.

3,000 Degrees

Cement plants melt limestone and other minerals to go into concrete, used in roads, bridges and buildings, at temperatures that can exceed 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,649 degrees Celsius), generating mercury pollution that ranks second behind that from coal-fired power plants, according to the EPA.

Portland cement, according to the court’s ruling, is a fine gray powder used to make that construction grade concrete.

Mercury, which can harm development of children’s brains, is released when cement components such as clay, limestone and shale are heated in a kiln, according to EPA documents.

The EPA rules also mandate cuts in acid gases, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.

In its ruling, the appellate panel rejected the industry association’s contention that the EPA failed to consider the effect of its standards on older cement kilns, calling it an “eminently reasonable decision based on the facts the EPA had before it,” which show that older kilns are already being replaced.

Carter Phillips, the attorney who argued the case for the Portland Cement Association, didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment on the court’s order. Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Justice Department, also didn’t immediately reply to a phone message seeking comment.

The case is Portland Cement Association v. Environmental Protection Agency, 10-1358 and 10-1359, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).

--With assistance from Tom Schoenberg in Washington. Editors: Peter Blumberg, Glenn Holdcraft

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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