By Pamela Sroka-Holzmann, The Express-Times

Lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at replacing a series of new federal regulations on the cement industry that they said will force cement plant shutdowns and lead to job losses. 

U.S. Rep. Charles Dent, R-Lehigh Valley, and other members of the House on Thursday introduced legislation to provide the Environmental Protection Agency with at least 15 months to re-propose and finalize “achievable” rules for cement manufacturing facilities. The rules are aimed at reducing emissions. 

The legislation also calls for extending the compliance deadline from 2013 to at least three to five years and redirecting the EPA in developing the new rules.

“It would give the cement manufacturers more time to comply,” said Collin Long, Dent’s press secretary. “Obviously, they want to comply with the standards, but feel they don’t have enough time in the current time frame to get them done. In the long run, we see this as job loser rather than a job creator for sure.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., is among 24 national leaders also lobbying to pass the legislation. It is estimated by Dent and Toomey that the regulations as they stand currently would reduce nearly 20 percent of domestic cement manufacturing capacity within the next two years.

In a letter dated Wednesday and sent to U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Toomey said the U.S. cement industry is suffering through its greatest decline since the 1930s with current employment down to 15,000 high-wage jobs and less than $6.5 billion in 2009 annual revenues. This represents a 25 percent reduction in employment and a 35 percent reduction in revenues from pre-recession levels, he said.

Toomey argues in the letter the cement industry cannot afford significant investments resulting from new mandates, noting industry analysts estimate that this single EPA change in rules will cost $3.4 billion in compliance costs, representing approximately half of the cement industry’s annual revenue.

Toomey said he believes if Congress does not act, the new regulations also will impact almost 2,000 workers in 11 different cement plants across Pennsylvania, with seven of the plants located in the Lehigh Valley.

While representatives at Hercules in Stockertown, Essroc Cement in Nazareth, and Keystone Cement in East Allen Township all have said they are equipped to meet the stricter standards, Toomey said the longer time frame would allow the cement industries to recover from the recession and comply with regulations.

Raymond Seipp, spokesman for Buzzi Unicem USA, the owner of Hercules, is hoping the longer time frame will give the EPA time to reconsider some of the regulations.

“We are very much in favor of some sort of hold on the EPA’s regulations,” Seipp said. “We applaud the EPA’s work in the past, but this latest round, it’s moving quickly."

Enlarge Sue Beyer | The Express-Times Rich Peters and Brad Silfies work in the control room at Keystone Cement. Express-Times Photo | SUE BEYER Keystone Cementgallery (7 photos)
Keith E. Williams, who serves as a managing environmental process engineer for Buzzi Unicem USA and works at Hercules Cement, called the Lehigh Valley the birthplace of the U.S. Portland Cement Industry that at one time produced a major portion of worldwide cement. This is compared to 2 percent in 2010.

“To severely regulate the industry further will have dire consequences" while  China, India and other much higher polluters will do nothing other than increase global air pollution, said Williams, who also is former chairman of the Lehigh Valley Berks Air Quality Partnership. 

Rocco Marinaro, Keystone's manager of environmental compliance, said the company is optimistic Toomey’s letter will initiate a dialogue on the need to balance economic regulations and economic viability.

Gary A. Molchan, vice president of environmental affairs for Essroc, said, "Implementation of the rules as they are today would have a devastating impact on the industry. EPA can revise the rules and implement a more realistic program with timelines the industry can execute."

The new EPA regulations mark the first time the federal government has restricted emissions from existing cement kilns. The EPA representatives say the rules will prevent thousands of serious health risks.

“EPA's 2010 cement manufacturing air pollution standards will slash emissions of harmful mercury, acid gases and fine particle pollution by more than 90 percent — preventing thousands of heart attacks and aggravated cases of asthma and up to 2,500 premature deaths,” Brendan Gilfillan, spokesman for the EPA, said in an e-mail Friday. “EPA will review the legislation."