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EPA cracks down on Midlothian plants

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JOEY DAUBEN
The Ellis County Press
MIDLOTHIAN - The Environmental Protection Agency is working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to crack down on Ellis County cement plants, in a effort to reduce North Texas' high smog levels. The crackdown comes after a legal settlement between the EPA and environmental groups.
Environmentalists sued the EPA to get the tougher regulations, claiming local efforts to try to enforce mandates were not working.

The plants include Texas Industries, Holcim Cement, Inc., Chaparral Steel and North Texas Cement.

'All we're asking is for them [cement plants] to reduce their emissions, to say what they told us they were going to do,' said Katy Hubener executive director of Blue Skies Alliance, a local environmental group.

Midlothian cement plants are the primary source of the area's high smog levels, but are the least regulated, according to regulators. However, the industries were there before many of Midlothian's 10,000 residents flocked to the area.

In the early 90s, several state and federal officials, including U.S. Congressman Joe Barton, lobbied for light regulation of the Midlothian plants.

According to EPA toxic release data in 2000, the latest year available, the four Midlothian plants are pumping out 1,403 tons of toxic waste each year, compared to 74 Dallas plants releasing 424 tons and 55 Fort Worth plants releasing 287 tons.

But Dallas and Fort Worth have some of the area's strictest vehicle emissions standards. The average state inspection in Dallas or Tarrant counties runs around $30, whereas Ellis County inspections can go for as low as $12.

Hubener said as a key player on the committee, Barton can dramatically shape clean air policy both in Texas and throughout the United States.

Barton's district includes Ellis County, and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has received two $10,000 contributions from the Texas Industries Political Action Committee, as well as other contributions from Holcim Cement, and Waxahachie-based Owens-Corning.

Two elementary schools and new houses are located within a mile of the plants, but they were built years after the plants were built. There are new kiln-cleaners used in plants in New York and in Europe, Hubener said, that have reduced air pollution by 80-85 percent. 'We think the kids in North Texas are just as important as the kids in New York and Europe,' Hubener said.

'The New York and European plants have cut emissions by 80, 85 percent. Is the children's health too much to ask?'

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