Cement plant operators are voicing concerns about new federal regulations proposed for the industry.
There are four cement plants in Iowa. All four are part of the Portland Cement Association. Association vice president Andy O’Hare says it may not be possible for cement plants to meet the new Environmental Protection Agency standards by 2013.
"We don’t yet have a definitive assessment of the technologies that E.P.A. has suggested can be used for this purpose and whether they actually can…get the job done," he says.
Last month, the E.P.A. proposed that cement plants make changes so emissions of mercury, hydrochloric acid and two other pollutants would be lowered. O’Hare says cement plant operators are committed to reducing emissions, but the new regulations would put a great deal of stress on the cement industry and some plants might have to close.
"Environmental improvements, just like many things in life, are incremental and we think that this is just biting off a little more than we can chew," he says, "especially in light of the other environmental challenges — like climate change — that we confront, as well as the current economic circumstance."
Demand for cement is expected to increase by 30 percent by 2020 and if the new standards start in 2013, O’Hern suggests it may force the industry to open plants in Mexico.
"If you open the window of your office and look out the window, you see structures and roads and things that would not be possible without cement," he says. "It’s one of those products that you’re going to need it whether you like it or not. It really isn’t a choice, so our preference certainly is to have it made by U.S. cement plants with workers in the United States and keep those jobs here."
The E.P.A. held a series of public hearings around the country this week to solicit comments about the proposed emission rules.
Two of Iowa’s cement plants are in Mason City, but one will close soon. The other two plants are in Des Moines and in Buffalo, which is in Scott County.
Most cement in the U.S. is called "Portland cement" — a mixture of finely-ground limestone and clay that’s mixed with water and hardens into concrete. A British brick layer patented the formula in 1824 and named it for the nearby Isle of Portland.
(Additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson.)