Lehigh and state will meet with agency over order; EPA halted construction of kiln in Union Bridge


Officials for Lehigh Portland Cement Co. and the state Department of the Environment have been invited to Philadelphia next week to air their disagreement with the Environmental Protection Agency -- which last week shut down construction of the cement company's kiln.

The EPA's stop-work order was the first issued to a Maryland company under the Clean Air Act since Congress amended the law in 1990 to give the federal agency that authority, said EPA spokesman David S. Sternberg and Ann Marie DeBiase, deputy director of the state Air and Radiation Management Administration.

"This is unusual," Sternberg said. "I don't know that there have been more than a couple in this region, ever" under the Clean Air Act. Region III includes Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington.

"We plan to meet with them on Oct. 12 and hope to iron out our differences," he said.

Lehigh will meet with the EPA, said David H. Roush, plant manager in Union Bridge. The company has formally asked the EPA to lift the stop-work order.

"We're still waiting to hear a response officially," Roush said. "It's certainly not something we would ever want to be first at."

The company's $260-million plant expansion began in 1996, and it was preparing to pour a foundation for the 195-foot kiln that will replace four kilns and double the output of cement.

"We stopped work," said Roush, who couldn't estimate the cost of a delay. "We sent the contractors home. We have no idea what the length of the delay will be, but we would lose this part of the construction season."

As a supplier of cement, he said, Lehigh knows the vagaries of Maryland winters, which could allow work into December or might close it into March. Another problem could arise with special parts in a delay, he noted.

The disagreement centers on whether Lehigh's expected emissions in several categories of pollutants required reports on the best available control technology, said Roush and DeBiase, noting that their explanation is simplified.

"We issued the permit," DeBiase said, noting that this occurred in April -- after more than a year of dialogue with Lehigh and a public process that began in January, including public hearings.

Of the pollutants, the state found a significant increase would occur only in carbon monoxide, although not enough to pose a health threat, she said.

Sternberg, however, said that: "The EPA's position is the law says that in order to prevent significant deterioration of air quality when you have a major new source -- such as a kiln -- you have to have the best available pollution-control technology, and that the permit application has to show that they considered the full range of technologies. Because we think that's the proper time to reduce the emissions: to have the proper technologies in place at the start."

The state's DeBiase said: "I think we are involved to the extent that we are concerned about EPA's disagreement with us, and we would like to come to some resolution of the issue so that Lehigh can go forward with their project."

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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