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Cement Regulatory Relief clears House after NRMCA leadership visit

Last month's bipartisan passage of “Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011” (H.R. 2681) by the U.S. House of Representatives was overwhelmingly called a triumph by construction industry leaders. A year-long effort to reform what they believed would be job-killing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on the U.S. cement industry came to a head with legislation that seeks to replace harsh new federal rules with commonsense environmental safeguards.

Introduced by Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK) and Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), along with a bipartisan group of their colleagues, the legislation requires EPA to re-propose three recent environmental rules directed at the portland cement industry. Although domestic cement manufacturers are among the most highly regulated enterprises in the country, they recently faced an avalanche of new regulations. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) introduced a companion bill in the last month.

In the days leading up to the H.R. 2681 passage, NRMCA Chairman Karl Watson, president of Cemex USA, NRMCA Board member Hardy Johnson, chief governmental/public affairs officer, Titan America, and NRMCA Board member Brad Slabaugh, vice president and general manager, Hilltop Basic Resources, were invited by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to help educate House members about the challenges facing the ready mixed concrete and cement industries if the EPA regulatory priorities were allowed to be implemented.

During a private meeting with House GOP leaders, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), McCarthy, and Majority Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL), Watson and Slabaugh began the discussion by sharing how EPA’s rules would impact their companies and further stifle their ability to recover from the economic downturn. The two were also invited to participate in a weekly meeting of approximately 60 members of the House Majority Whip team to help rally support for the vote.

The legislation aims to temporarily halt four separate EPA rules: the portland cement national emission standard of hazardous air pollutants (NESHAP) rule for cement kilns, the portland cement new source performance standards (NSPS) rule, the commercial and industrial solid waste incinerator standards (CISWI) rule, and the identification of non-hazardous secondary materials rule. Specifically, H.R. 2681 would ask EPA to re-propose the four rules with achievable goals and then give the cement industry five years for implementation.

A recent study found that one of these regulations alone, NESHAP, will force the closure of approximately 18 of the United States’ nearly 100 cement manufacturing plants. The production volume lost by these closures will require cement to be sourced from other countries, thereby exporting thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs and importing cement from countries with emissions standards much weaker than those already in place in the U.S. In addition, plant closures would be counterproductive to improving the nation’s infrastructure as well as unemployment in the construction industry.