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JOHN McFARLAND Associated Press Writer — October 5, 2009

DALLAS (AP) — A cement factory near Dallas has withdrawn its state request to burn about 145 million pounds of old tires a year, citing a federal crackdown on the Texas air pollution permitting process.

Texas Industries Inc. spokesman David Perkins said Friday that the company scrapped the plan in part because it applied for a type of permit that the Environmental Protection Agency last month ruled was not in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

The company planned to use old tires as fuel at its plant in Midlothian, one of three area plants that make up the nation's largest concentration of cement factories. Perkins said the plan would have been beneficial because tires burn cheaper and cleaner than coal and need to be disposed of somehow.

Environmental groups, elected officials and residents lobbied the EPA to halt the permit, arguing it would allow more toxins to be released into the air. The company withdrew the permit Tuesday, but Perkins said it hopes to revive the project.

The plants produce 6 million tons of cement a year. According to the most recent EPA statistics, the plants in 2007 emitted about 300 tons of sulfuric acid, nearly 20 tons of benzene, and smaller amounts of mercury, chromium, manganese and other chemicals.

"They have over the years burned a lot of hazardous waste that should not have been burned," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who wrote to the EPA on behalf of his district that's downwind from Midlothian. "Almost everybody knows you should not be burning tires and putting it into the air we breathe."

The Dallas-Fort Worth area hasn't been within federal ozone pollution limits since they were set in 1990, and environmentalists say the cement plants are a huge reason. The TXI plant is the biggest polluter of the plants and the only one permitted to burn hazardous material.

Perkins acknowledged that changes were occurring in air pollution regulations, but said the company believes "this process will withstand these reviews."

Jeff Robinson, chief of the EPA's air permits section for the region that includes the Dallas area, said the EPA reviewed the permit after it was withdrawn and found significant problems.

Among the chief concerns was the use of one of the types of permits the EPA said on Sept. 8 should be thrown out. Robinson said officials also were worried that the plant might emit more ozone-causing nitrogen oxide and toxic sulfuric acid.

The concerns were outlined in a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Wednesday.

Steve Hagle, director of the TCEQ's air permits division, said the state told TXI its permit did not meet standards before it was withdrawn.

While states have leeway in enforcing the Clean Air Act, Texas and the EPA have for years disagreed on how best to do that. TCEQ maintains its programs are in compliance, but the EPA's rejection of several key aspects of the state's permitting program becomes official after a 60-day comment period.

Environmentalists have for years claimed the pollution permitting process is just a formality in the business-friendly state, and some credited the EPA's scrutiny with TXI's decision to withdraw the permit. They said the EPA decision will help fight a process that Gov. Rick Perry hasn't addressed.

"We now have an effective counterweight to Rick Perry's 'no questions asked' approach to letting industry pollute the air," Jim Schermbeck, director of the cement plant watchdog group Downwinders At Risk.

TCEQ's three commissioners are appointed by the governor and have approved 97 percent of the air permits they vote on, but most permits are rejected before the commissioners hear them, according to the agency. Perry's office has deflected such criticism, saying he merely appoints qualified people bound by law to fulfill their duties.

Midlothian is a town of about 16,000 just south of Dallas. The factories have 10 huge kilns that fire cement at temperatures up to 2,800 degrees.

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