Groups Win Appeal for Environmental Review of Titan Cement Plant
The state must examine all public health and environmental impacts of a proposed Titan America cement plant near Wilmington, N.C. before any state permits for the plant can be issued, according to an order issued by Judge Donald Stephens of Wake County Superior Court in a case brought by conservation groups representing residents of the affected area. The state’s examination must cover the total impact of the proposed plant and its mining operations on North Carolina’s ecosystems, including drinking water, recreational and commercial fisheries, water quality for wildlife and recreation, and quality of the air state residents breathe.
The decision reverses a November ruling by the N.C. Department of Administration that allowed the plant to go forward without such a review. Proposed on the Northeast Cape Fear River in Castle Hayne, the cement kiln would be the fourth-largest cement plant in the country and a significant source of toxic emissions, such as mercury and hydrochloric acid. The mine for the limestone to make the cement would destroy about 1,000 acres of wetlands.
Among the groups requesting the review and concerned by toxic emissions from the proposed plant are the N.C. 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.
“We welcome a comprehensive environmental review as a crucial first step to protect the well-being of North Carolina residents and natural resources and bring transparency to this process,” said Geoff Gisler, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “North Carolinians paying $4.5 million to bring this company to the state and enduring the public health and environmental consequences of the plant’s pollution for decades deserve to know what they’re getting before Titan starts building.”
The groups originally petitioned Governor Perdue’s Department of Administration on September 10 for a comprehensive environmental review by citing the State Environmental Policy Act, which requires such examination of all projects involving state action and public funds with potential environmental impact prior to permitting. The state’s Division of Air Quality drafted a permit for the cement plant without first conducting a comprehensive review.
“This decision gives ordinary citizens that care about the coast a voice in its future” said Mike Giles, a Coastal Advocate for the N.C. Coastal Federation. “We will closely follow the review to ensure that our critically important natural resources and the health of our coastal communities are protected.”
The state and New Hanover County, where the cement kiln and mine will be located, awarded Titan America $300,000 and $4.2 million respectively in support of the project.
“This ruling is a tremendous victory for the community and the Northeast Cape Fear River,” said Doug Springer, CAPE FEAR RIVERKEEPER®, Cape Fear River Watch. “If built, Titan’s proposed project would pollute the Northeast Cape Fear, our air, and our community for decades. These waters that are the backbone of our coastal environment, culture, and tourism and fishing industries will now be given the full attention they deserve.”
North Carolina already lists the adjacent Northeast Cape Fear River as 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.
About Southern Environmental Law Center
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.
About North Carolina Coastal Federation
The North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) is the state’s only non-profit organization focused exclusively on protecting and restoring the coast of North Carolina through education, advocacy and habitat restoration and preservation. www.nccoast.org
About Cape Fear River Watch
Cape Fear River Watch was founded in 1993 and began as a nonprofit organization, open to everyone, dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the health, beauty, cleanliness, and heritage of the Cape Fear River Basin. CFRW’s mission is to “protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin through education, advocacy and action.” CFRW supports the work of the Cape Fear RIVERKEEPER, a member of the WATERKEEPER ALLIANCE.