Groups ask state administration to study environmental impact of cement plant
Environmental groups today asked the N.C. Department of Administration to rule whether the proposed Titan America cement plant’s environmental impact on surrounding areas–including New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties–must be examined before the state begins issuing permits. A separate letter by the groups also called on Governor Perdue to temporarily suspend permitting of the cement kiln and mine until her department rules. The groups concerned include the North Carolina Coastal Federation and Cape Fear River Watch represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, and PenderWatch & Conservancy represented by the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. The groups filed a petition with the N.C. Department of Administration alleging that the environmental impacts of the project, which is partially funded by taxpayers, must be studied before the state issues any permits. The N.C. Environmental Policy Act requires all projects involving state action and public funds with potential environmental impact be studied prior to permitting. “The State shouldn’t exempt Titan’s proposed cement plant from the same comprehensive environmental review applied to other projects that rely on public funds,” said Geoff Gisler, staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Residents and taxpayers deserve to know what environmental impacts come with this government-industry deal before the state starts issuing permits.” The state and New Hanover County, where the cement kiln and mine will be located, have awarded Titan America $300,000 and $4.2 million respectively in support of the project. Located on the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River in Castle Hayne, the proposed kiln and mine would be the fourth largest cement plant in the country and is expected to be a significant source of toxic emissions such as mercury and hydrochloric acid in addition to destroying approximately 1,000 acres of wetlands. “A project of this magnitude deserves careful and thorough study and public input, especially considering the potential impacts on human health and water resources,” said Michelle Nowlin, supervising attorney at the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. Secretary of Administration, Britt Cobb, a Perdue appointee, must now decide whether the Environmental Policy Act applies to the cement kiln. North Carolina has listed the Northeast Cape Fear River as already impaired by mercury contamination. As a ‘blackwater river,’ it constitutes an ecosystem that a recent U.S. Geological Survey study found to be particularly vulnerable to mercury contamination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight percent of American women of childbearing age have mercury in their bodies at levels high enough to put their babies at risk of birth defects, loss of IQ, learning disabilities and developmental problems. Toxic mercury accumulates in people and wildlife that breathe contaminated air and eat contaminated fish.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is the only regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of 40 legal experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.