In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Cupertino City Council voted to encourage the Bay Area’s air district to impose stricter emissions rules on the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant and Quarry.
Not only did the council vote in favor of Mayor Mark Santoro writing a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality District (BAAQMD) saying the council wants the district to apply tougher standards for cement plants, the council members used wording provided by a local Sierra Club activist in drafting the letter.
The collaboration between the council and environmentalists was quite a contrast to , when the two sides appeared more at odds. After the the council now includes two members of Bay Area Clean Environment (BACE), Barry Chang and Rod Sinks.
On Tuesday, Gary Latshaw, chairman of the Loma Prieta Chapter’s air quality committee, submitted an amended version of a letter written by city staff, which provided more detailed reasoning for why the plant should be subject to more stringent rules.
The regulations under consideration by the BAAQMD concern Regulation 9, Rule 13, meant to achieve the “maximum feasible, cost effective emissions reductions” of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter from Portland cement manufacturing like occurs at the Lehigh plant just outside Cupertino.
The goal is to bring the Lehigh operations into compliance with limits for toxic air contaminants, as laid out in the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants.
A BAAQMD official, Robert Cave, that Lehigh “is the single largest source of NOx in the Bay Area that does not have a modern add-on control device.”
At a public workshop hosted by the BAAQMD on Dec. 12 at Monta Vista High School, some residents were alarmed that the air district was considering to classify the Lehigh plant as an existing plant, subject to less stringent rules than those applied to either new or modified plant.
Members of BACE and another local activist group, Quarry No, pushed back, arguing that the plant has undergone multiple modifications over the years. BAAQMD officials countered that Lehigh did not meet a legal definition of a modified plant.
In January, , suggesting a letter be sent asking for the plant to be classified as modified.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, the council edited and re-edited Latshaw’s draft, coming to consensus on wording all five could agree on. The letter asks the air district to apply the stricter standards, regardless of whether or not Lehigh meets the legal definition of a modified existing plant.
The argument hinges on whether or not the emission limits can be “economically achieved”. At the workshop in December, Cave, the agency’s senior air quality specialist, said the BAAQMD could not require regulations so expensive as to force a company out of business.
“We are trying to reduce their emissions over time,” he said. “We cannot require them to shut down…there are limits in what we can require people to do.”
However, the letter voted on by council argues that the stricter standards are “achievable and cost effective.” It also points out how air pollution contributes to higher health care costs.
In addition, Latshaw’s letter underscores that the Bay Area region is in "’non-attainment’ for ambient levels of ozone and PM (particulate matter). Because NOx contributes to the formation of zone, and So2 and PM contribute to increased levels of PM, reducing emissions of these pollutants would help the Bay Area Achieve attainment status.”
Latshaw was joined by nearly a dozen BACE members, nine of whom addressed the council urging the mayor to send the letter. There appeared to be no Lehigh representatives present.
Before the start of the public hearing, Sinks said that although he is a founding member of BACE, he would keep an open mind toward all points of view during discussions.
“I just want to make it clear sitting up here I’m keeping an open mind and representing the citizens of Cupertio as a whole, I’m not confused about my role up here. I do intend to listen with impartianty and fairness to all the speakers here.”