WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday finalized regulations limiting the release of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from cement plants, a move the Obama administration said will save lives but that cement makers warned could drive jobs overseas.
This is the first time the federal government has restricted emissions from existing cement kilns. The regulations aim to reduce annual emissions of mercury and particulate matter by 92 percent by 2013; hydrochloric acid, 97 percent; and sulfur dioxide, 78 percent.
EPA officials said the limits would benefit children, whose brains can be damaged by mercury that makes its way through the air to water to fish that children eat. They also predicted the rules would stave off thousands of premature heart and lung deaths each year attributed to particulate pollution.
"By reducing harmful pollutants in the air we breathe, we cut the risk of asthma attacks and save lives," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.
Cement producers said the new rules will cost them "several billion dollars" to implement, by installing pollution scrubbers at existing kilns. They warned that regulations could lead to plant closures and job outsourcing.
"More cement will need to be imported to make up for shrinking domestic supply," said Brian McCarthy, chief executive and president of the Portland Cement Association in Skokie, Ill. "We fear this could constrain the U.S. government's efforts to stimulate the economy, create jobs and rehabilitate the nation's infrastructure."
EPA analysts estimate the rules will trigger $926 million to $950 million in annual compliance costs nationwide in 2013, while yielding $6.7 billion to $18 billion in benefits to public health and the environment.
Cement industry officials waged an intense yearlong lobbying campaign against the emissions regulations that the EPA first proposed in 2009. The final rule slightly increases mercury limits, but EPA officials said the overall emissions limits did not "appreciably change" from what they first proposed.
Environmental groups noted the changes but said they remained pleased with the final product. "We still think this is a very strong rule," said Avinash Kar of the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.