The U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 6 approved legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to revisit its cement emissions regulation. The legislation cleared the House by a bipartisan 262-161 vote.

The legislation, the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act (H.R. 2681) would require the EPA to scrap its existing cement emissions regulation, which is set to go into effect in September 2013, and develop new requirements using more realistically achievable technologies over a longer period of time.

The current regulation’s goal is to reduce emissions at cement manufacturing plants across the country using maximum achievable technology (MACT). Proponents of the legislation say the existing cement MACT rule is flawed and would cost jobs at a time when the economy is struggling. Opponents of the measure say delay of the regulation would mean more hospitalizations due to asthma and other health conditions caused by proximity to cement kilns, which emit mercury.

Andy O’Hare, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Portland Cement Association, says that EPA’s cement MACT could force as many as 18 out of the currently operating 100 cement manufacturing plants to shut down, and would cost the industry as much as $3.4 billion to comply.

Moreover, PCA says that the cement MACT rule would likely bring an uptick in imported cement, raising the cost of cement for construction projects as a result.

Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, adds, “Increasing the cost of construction will only further depress demand for new projects and force even more construction workers out of a job.  We will continue to urge the members of the Senate and the President to support this much-needed measure to protect our economy from the kind of costly regulations the President claims to oppose.”

Although companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate, even the bill’s supporters acknowledge that the bill faces a “difficult slog” in that chamber, PCA’s O’Hare says.

Environmental and public health groups such as the Sierra Club and the American Lung Association oppose the bill and have the support of lawmakers such as Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who held a press briefing on Oct. 6 to highlight the “unprecedented, outrageous attacks on the EPA,” she said, and to release an EPW report that “proves unequivocally that a strong EPA is essential for health protection and economic growth.”

But O’Hare notes that PCA is not opposed to being more stringently regulated. Rather,  “the timing is really bad,” he says.

A “redo” of the rule, with more time to comply would enable the cement industry “to achieve the environmental objectives of the [Clean Air Act] while at the same time giving the economy a chance to recover, and the industry enough time to generate the revenues necessary to make these investments,” O’Hare says.