EPA fines Lehigh $2.55 million for violating Clean Water Act

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. “

Many links to this story:

Mercury News   |  SFGATE  |  KTVU ABC7NEWS  |  KRON4  |  EPA

Bizjournals  |  KTSF  |  KTSF (Chinese)  |  World Journal (Chinese)

World Journal (Chinese)  |  Sing-Tao USA (Chinese)

Local cities, environmental groups support BACE law suit appeals

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.

Did You Know?

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. [1] 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, [3] a powerful NEUROTOXIN that is especially dangerous to children’s developing brains.[4] Lehigh has a long history of violations in air, water, land, and employee safety regulations from local, state and federal regulatory agencies. [5] In 2010 alone, Lehigh received 185 mining safety violations from the Department of Labor. [6]

Silicon Valley Residents Form Bay Area for Clean Environment
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.

Recent actions


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. [7]


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. [8] 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.


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. [9] 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. [10] 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. [11]

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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News Headlines (prior to 2015)

See the news that we helped make fighting Lehigh to force them to protect our air

Cupertino council welcomes new members, says goodbye to others. Lehigh pollution a factor.
– December 03, 2014

A Victory! After much pressure from BACE and other citizen groups, the Lehigh Cement Plant has agreed to replace the central smokestack they illegally removed in the 1960’s. – January 13, 2014

Communities Across the Country Bombarded By Pollution Urge EPA to Follow Current Science – Earthjustice
News July 3, 2013

Exposure to high pollution levels during pregnancy may increase risk of having child with autism.  Is the cement plan causing our Autism epidemic?  Harvard School of Public Health – June 18, 2013

Harvard Study: “Women who were exposed to thehighest levels of diesel or mercury in the air were twice as likely to have a child with autism” – Huffington Post June 18, 2013

Lehigh Cement, Sierra Club reach settlement on Permanente Creek suit – Mercury News – May 2, 2013

Lehigh cement settles Cupertino pollution suit for $10 million – April 25, 2013

Communities Ask Court for Protection from Toxic Air Pollution – April 17, 2013

Cupertino’s Lehigh cement plant and quarry criticized for mercury emissions – March 5, 2013

Are The New Weakened Cement Standards Enough? – January 14, 2013

Christmas Comes Early for Cement Industry – December 22, 2012

EPA imposes new pollution limits on boilers, cement plants – December 21, 2012

Boiler, Incinerator and Cement Cleanup will Cut Pollution and Save Lives – December 21, 2012

EPA Finalizes Clean Air Standards for Industrial Boilers, Incinerators and Cement Kilns/Updated rules provide extensive public health protections, cut costs of compliance – December 21, 2012

Lehigh Quarry’s Toxic Impact on Local Air and Watershed – December 21, 2012

Lawsuits emerge over Lehigh operations: Cement plant sues air quality management district; Regional – December 5, 2012

Lehigh Southwest Cement Company Faces Legal Challenge to Environmental Impact Report – November 29, 2012

Lehigh at the Center of Two Lawsuits – November 29, 2012

KQED News: Rules Tightened on Cupertino Cement Plant, a Big Source of Bay Area Mercury – September 19, 2012

Great presentation at City Hall today by Dr. Gary Latshaw, the Air Quality Chairman of the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club. The slides are available here (34 Megs, Powerpoint). – August 12, 2012

EPA Dirties Clean Air Legacy with Proposal to Weaken and Delay Cement Rule – June 25, 2012

Patchcast: County Board ignores residents, votes to let Lehigh expand gigantic waste pile(video) – July 9, 2012

Lehigh Prevails with Supes Decision on Reclamation Plan – June 22 2012

Lehigh Restoration Plan Approved; Opponents Stunned by Rock Pile Size – June 11 2012

New Study Finds Skyrocketing Increase in Autism: Group says link to environmental factors shown, gov’t should regulate toxic chemicals – April 1, 2012

After Stinging Commentary, County Postpones Cement Hearing – March 9, 2012

Baykeepers names Lehigh as largest source of toxic mercury pollution in S.F. Bay – March 1, 2012

Council to Air District: More Stringent Standards for Lehigh

The actual letter (PDF)
– Feb. 9 2012