A citizens' environmental group is unhappy with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality giving a $2 million grant for two cement companies to burn tires as fuel in their kilns.
The commission and the cement makers, however, insist the group doesn't understand the program, which cement makers say will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from their operations by about 30 percent.
Texas Industries Inc. and CEMEX Inc. will split the grant for a trial run of tire-derived fuel at their operations, according to a spokesman for TXI. Both companies already burn hazardous waste as fuel, said Katy Hubener, executive director of Blue Skies Alliance. Along with Blue Skies, residents of Midlothian-which calls itself ``The Cement Capital of the World''-are worried this will cause the town's air quality to deteriorate.
``What we're opposed to is that they're not mandating any emissions reductions with this, as they're supposed to under federal law,'' Ms. Hubener said. ``This is a giant loophole through which they can drive their cement trucks.''
On the Web sites of Blue Skies Alliance and its sister organization, Downwinders at Risk, are many pages of articles denouncing the effect of pollution from cement kilns on the air quality of Midlothian and surrounding areas.
The Downwinders at Risk Web site quotes a report from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation. That report states that pollution from U.S. and Mexican cement kilns has been found as far north as the Arctic Circle.
The grant to TXI and CEMEX is part of a settlement reached in August with the commission.
Both companies had sued the agency for its rule designed to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from cement kilns.
The problem with the rule was ``there are no cement kilns within (Clean Air Act) non-attainment areas in Texas,'' the TXI spokesman said. Both TXI and CEMEX felt they were being unfairly singled out.
Although neither the nitrogen oxide rule nor the settlement refers to tires, they do discuss ``mid-kiln'' and secondary combustion for cement kilns as a way of reducing emissions. Both methods can include tires as a fuel source, the TXI spokesman said.
Fed whole into the kilns at very high heat-usually 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit or higher-tires are an even better fuel source for kilns than coal and are known for their very clean burn, according to the spokesman.
``The burning of tires in kilns reduces nitrogen oxide emissions,'' he said. ``It's a win-win situation; you reduce nitrogen oxide emissions while making the best use of scrap tires.''
Although TXI has never burned tires at its kilns, the spokesman said, many other Texas cement companies do, particularly since the mid-1990s when the state made its last big push to get tires accepted as fuel for cement kilns.
Regarding Blue Skies Alliance, he said, ``You'd think a group like this group would applaud a plan that alleviated two environmental problems at once.''
Texas, he added, generates about 22 million scrap tires annually.
TXI has applied for a permit to burn tires, the spokesman said, but he wasn't sure when the permit would be issued. Once it is, he added, TXI will retrofit its kilns in Midlothian to accept tires as fuel.