By David Mekeel, Reading Eagle

Officials from the cement industry and two Pennsylvania lawmakers hope to delay new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

U.S. Rep. Charles W. Dent, a Lehigh County Republican who represents part of Berks, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh County Republican, are each backing a bill that would delay the implementation of new hazardous emissions regulations for the cement industry.

"I'm not aware that there is a plant in America that can comply with all of these rules," Dent said Monday.

The EPA rule went into effect in August 2010 and the cement industry has until September 2013 to comply.

Dent has signed his name to a bill that would push back the compliance date to 2015 and force EPA to resubmit a new rule with "achievable" regulations.

"It's essential right now that EPA revisit this issue and repropose regulations that are achievable and that the responsible plant operator can comply with," he said.

Dent said the regulations would add an enormous burden to an industry struggling in a turbulent economy. He said that up to 20 percent of the roughly 100 cement plants in the U.S. might be forced to close if the compliance is not delayed.

"I just think that's unacceptable," said Dent, adding that the district he represents is the nation's largest cement-producing district. "We can't afford to lose any more jobs at a time like this."

Tom Chizmadia, senior vice president of government affairs for Lehigh Hanson, parent company of Lehigh Cement Co., said meeting all of the regulations by the deadline is a daunting task.

"The concerns on the regulations are that right now you're looking at the most comprehensive and challenging the company and the cement industry have ever faced," he said.

Chizmadia said there isn't one particular regulation that is trouble, but that the overall scope of the regulations make compliance difficult.

Lehigh Cement operates the Evansville plant in Maidencreek Township. Chizmadia did not indicate if the new regulations would impact the roughly 130 jobs there.

Chizmadia visited with congressional staffs earlier this month to talk about delaying the regulations. He said he and others in the industry want the EPA to slow implementation and take a second look at the regulations.

But environmental groups say the industry has already had enough time to air its concerns.

Emily Davis, a staff attorney at the National Resources Defense Council, said the new regulations have been discussed for 13 years.

"The cement industry has been on notice for over a decade now that they, like every industry in the United States, are going to have to control their toxic emissions," she said. "The industry has already had over a decade to prepare for these toxic air pollution standards that would save up to 2,500 lives per year.

"The idea that the industry needs more time is merely an attempt to further escape regulation and not meet toxic air pollution standards that will protect our families, and in particular our children."

Chizmadia said that despite the challenges the new regulations create, Lehigh Hanson's plants are working to meet them.

"As a company, our intent is to comply fully with this rule," he said.