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EPA OKs Cemex tire burning

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Reversing a decision it made in November, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ruled this month that the Cemex Fairborn cement plant has one year to complete a trial burn using scrap tires as a partial fuel.

After learning new information about the status of previous inspection violations Cemex committed several years ago and the need for scrap tire disposal, Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski approved Cemex’s request to complete two 60-day combustion trials using a mixture of petroleum coke, coal and whole tires. Cemex has one year to complete the test and must notify the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency at the beginning and completion of each trial burn, according to the EPA’s guidelines.

The OEPA’s recent decision in effect reverses last year’s denial of Cemex’s proposal to test burn tires. In November 2007, Korleski ruled that due to Cemex’s failure to address the alleged air emissions and kiln door installation violations found by the U.S. EPA in March 2005, approving an exemption of the Title V permit and allowing the tire burn trial would be “inappropriate,” he wrote in a denial letter to Cemex. But on May 15, Korleski changed his decision and approved Cemex’s request to burn tires after learning the trial would not affect the U.S. EPA’s allegations from 2005.

“I have learned more about the U.S. EPA enforcement case and found that allowing CEMEX to do feasibility studies on the burning of tires in the kiln will not affect that case,” Korleski wrote in a public announcement two weeks ago.

In addition, Korleski wrote in a letter to Cemex that the reversal was also influenced by his recent discovery that Cemex’s difficulty in receiving corporate funding prevented the company from completing the tire test burn during its 2006-07 permit exemption. Lastly, Korleski wrote in a letter to the public that “my own recent experience with tire dumping enforcement cases has led me to further consider the potential benefits of using tires as a fuel source.”

According to OEPA spokesperson Jenny Marsee from the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, Korleski’s statement meant that as director of the OEPA, he “has to consider balancing the air effects of tire burning with trying to find a disposal site for tires.”

Allowing the cement plant to burn tires would serve the interests of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which awarded a one-time $350,000 grant to Cemex last year to help rid Ohio of over one million discarded tires. According to the OEPA, Ohio collects over 3 million scrap tires each year in landfills and unauthorized dumps.

But Dawn Falleur, who is director of the Green Environmental Coalition, believes that burning a hazardous waste in a way that creates more hazardous waste doesn’t help anyone.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” she said, indicating that the only proper way to dispose of tires is to burn them in an incinerator made for that purpose, an expensive process that cuts down on business profits.

“We are very disappointed that the director of the OEPA would take this position after assuring us when he took that office last year that he would insist on compliance,” Falleur said Tuesday.

The OEPA’s most recent ruling also represents a loss of leverage for the four other regions in the U.S. with Cemex plants that have a history of compliance failure, she said.

“If Ohio had denied the request because Cemex had not satisfied the violations, it would have been leverage for the other cases across the country,” she said.

According to OEPA standards, Cemex’s test burn will involve a fuel combination of not less than 70 percent petroleum coke and not more than 30 percent tires, which represents burning a maximum of 8,600 passenger tire equivalents per day, or 3 million tires a year. Cemex is not permitted to burn tires for more than two 60-day periods, and the company will also be required to perform continuous emissions monitoring for total hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides.

These test protocols still are not strict enough for Falleur, who would like to see an analysis of the compounds that make up each tire so that monitors can know what will be burned and what emissions to test for in the air. And though the continuous emissions monitoring is required during the test for 30 days after, Falleur thinks Cemex should be measuring air quality all the time, period.

Though Cemex had a permit exemption to test-burn tires for 2006, the company was not able to complete the trials in time and was granted an extension by the OEPA until December 2007. The Green Environmental Coalition filed an appeal of that extension with the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission in January 2007, which is still active, according to Falleur.

“We have to do what we feel is right, and opposing this is the right thing to do,” she said.

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