SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement with Lehigh Southwest Cement Company for failing to properly report releases of toxic chemicals at its Cupertino, Calif. plant. The company is required to pay a $47,600 penalty and spend $144,250 to fund projects that support local emergency response and limit future releases from the plant.
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On April 29, the EPA announced that to settle charges that it dumped millions of gallons of toxic waste water into Permanente Creek, the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company will pay $2.55 million in civil penalties to the government and will spend an additional $5 million to install an advanced waste water treatment plant to treat the polluted water discharged into the creek.
In announcing the settlement, EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld gave credit to local citizens groups like BACE for calling attention to Lehigh’s actions which were illegal under the Clean Water Act, leading to this settlement. In fact, BACE, along with the Sierra Club, was instrumental in bringing a successful citizen’s action again Lehigh for polluting the creek which triggered the EPA’s response.
During the press conference, Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said:
“By bringing this older facility up to contemporary standards, and by pushing it to introduce cutting-edge treatment technology, the Department of Justice and our partners are helping create a level playing field, where all industry members are held to the same standards and no company can gain an economic advantage over its competitors by shortchanging environmental compliance. “
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City Councils of four local communities have decided to join in an amicus brief in favor of the appeal of the lawsuit that BACE has pursued that challenges the Reclamation Plan Amendment (RPA) that was submitted by Lehigh in early 2012 and approved by the County Board of Supervisors in June 2012. BACE’s original suit raised several legal issues concerning the adequacy and accuracy of the plan, including Lehigh’s continued contamination of Permanente Creek and the failure of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared for the RPA to address the impact of restoring the current pit mine while initiating a new pit, which Lehigh clearly intends to do.
This month, the City of Los Altos Hills voted to take the lead in preparing the amicus brief in support of BACE’s appeal. Since then, the cities of Cupertino, Los Altos and Atherton have also decided to join in the brief, while several other cities are considering doing the same.
The appeal of an earlier lawsuit brought by BACE that challenged the wholesale granting of vested rights to Lehigh by Santa Clara County also attracted wide support in the form of an amicus brief. Organizations that participated in that brief included the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Breathe California, and the Committee for Green Foothills and the cities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley and Sunnyvale.
We expect that both appeals will be heard this spring.
Lehigh Permanente Quarry and Cement Plant west of Cupertino is the only cement plant of the top polluting plants in the U.S. that is directly adjacent to a major population center, located within a 5-mile radius of Los Altos Hills, Los Altos, Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Saratoga.  The adjoining quarry, owned and operated by the same company, supplies the limestone used in cement production at the plant. The limestone in this quarry, is particularly high in mercury,  a powerful NEUROTOXIN that is especially dangerous to children’s developing brains. Lehigh has a long history of violations in air, water, land, and employee safety regulations from local, state and federal regulatory agencies.  In 2010 alone, Lehigh received 185 mining safety violations from the Department of Labor. 
In December 2010, local citizens formed BACE (Bay Area for Clean Environment), a non-profit dedicated to informing Silicon Valley residents about the health and environmental dangers of mercury and other forms of pollution. BACE is working hard to ensure that Lehigh is operating in full compliance with all existing regulations.
BACE FILES VESTED RIGHTS LAWSUIT
On May 27, 2011, BACE filed a lawsuit against Santa Clara County and Lehigh Southwest asking the court to throw out a March, 2011 decision by the County Board of Supervisors granting vested, or grandfathered, mining rights to Lehigh. The Board’s decision, which went against its own staff’s recommendation, allows Lehigh to expand mining activities without applying for a use permit that would place reasonable limits on its operations. 
THE STATE TAKES ACTION AGAINST LEHIGH
According to AB3098, quarries in violation of California mining laws cannot supply building materials to government-funded projects. Lehigh has been in violation of state mining laws for more than a decade yet remains on the AB3098-list of approved quarries and has received lucrative government contracts. Finally on July 20, 2011, the state acted to remove Lehigh from AB3098.  According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 28,000 signatures on a BACE initiated petition compelled the state to take rare action to hold Lehigh and Santa Clara County (as the lead agency) accountable.
SIERRA CLUB ISSUES A NOTICE OF INTENT TO SUE LEHIGH
On August 24, 2011, the Sierra Club issued a notice of intent to sue Lehigh and its parent company Heidelberg Cement Group for significant violations of the federal Clean Water Act. According to the notice, Lehigh is liable for illegally discharging millions of gallons of polluted quarry water, high in selenium and other pollutants, as well as tons of mine tailings into Permanente Creek. The notice states that the pollutants enter the Santa Clara Sub-basin aquifer, which is the primary source of drinking water for San Jose and surrounding cities.  BACE is supporting this action.
We are Making A Difference.
With Your Help, We Can Do More!
Lehigh is doing everything in its power to avoid being removed from AB3098, including filing a suit against the state to stop its enforcement of the law.  On the national level, the head of Lehigh’s parent company has urged Congress to block enforcement of new EPA pollution standards for cement plants. 
Community organizing makes a difference, even in the face of powerful interests. BACE will continue to pressure the State and other regulatory agencies to vigorously defend the public’s interest and hold Lehigh accountable.
Please contact your elected officials to express your concern about this issue and please join our mailing list to stay informed.
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