EPA threatens action against Cupertino cement plant

April 13, 2010 6:58:10 PM PDT
The Environmental Protection Agency is putting a major Bay Area supplier of cement on notice.

For years some residents living near the Lehigh Cement Plant have complained about toxic pollutants coming from the facility. Now, the EPA has just issued what is called a "notice of violation" against Lehigh.

"What it underscores is all of our concerns, all our prior concerns are validated," Quarry No spokesperson Bill Almon said.

The EPA is accusing Lehigh of making physical changes to its plant operations between 1996 and 1999. The agency says those changes could have resulted in increased emissions of greenhouse gases from that point forward.

The EPA says Lehigh's actions violated the Clean Air Act.

"They didn't obtain the proper permits to do that or install the additional air pollution control measures that they were required to do," EPA spokesperson Mary Simms said.

Lehigh's current owners say the plant was under different management during the mid to late 90's. It is now looking into exactly what happened and if excessive emissions have ever taken place.

"We're currently investigating those alleged violations and allegations; if things are wrong, we'll make it right and we'll work cooperatively with the EPA," Lehigh spokesperson Tim Matz said.

Many of the plant's critics are not reassured. The EPA's notice of violation threatens civil and possibly criminal penalties against Lehigh. Opponents want the plant's permit to operate pulled.

"So what we need to do is shut them down, that's my prime objective is to shut them down so that we here in the community can live," Citizens Against Pollution spokesperson Cathy Helgerson said.

The EPA says because this is an unresolved enforcement action, it cannot comment on why it took so long to address plant modifications made more than 10 years ago. Investigators will review information from Lehigh before determining what, if any action it will take against the cement plant.

The EPA is developing new emissions standards for cement plants nationwide. Those stricter rules are scheduled to be released in June.


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