Reject the Cemex application

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Fugitive dust from the Cemex cement plant in Lyons.
Richard Cargill

Corporate profits continue to be a priority over the environment — even in an “environmentally conscious” place like Boulder County. 

Cemex is the No. 1 polluter in Boulder County and No. 4 in Colorado. Its 25-year mining permit expires Sept. 30. On Sept. 29, Boulder County Commissioners are on track to approve a 15-year extension in exchange for land and money.

Here is a brief history of the situation:

Cemex Lyons is a cement plant that mines raw materials from Dowe Flats just west of Rabbit Mountain Open Space. Cemex emits 376,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency; this doesn’t even include all the trucks that haul materials into the plant from other locations and distribution of product out of the plant. Cemex burns seven tons of coal per hour, 24/7, and spews crystalline silicon dust with mercury and many other deadly components. It is well documented that this kind of dust is a public health hazard that can cause cancer, chronic lung disorders and kidney failure.  

The public health issue is real for my family: Since moving to Lyons last December, my mother has experienced flu-like symptoms when the winds blow from the east. She states she feels worse when leaving the house and better on weekends, when the plant is closed. My 11-year-old son goes to school just west of the Cemex plant in Lyons and runs track after school, which also worries me. 

In addition to the public health implications and environmental contamination, Cemex is depleting the aquifers from local farms and homes and has minority water rights with no well permit. Cemex is robbing wildlife and the public of habitat and recreation in 2,500 acres of land owned by the county. Cemex’s 25-year, special-use (because it’s located in an agricultural zoned area) mining permit expires on Sept. 30. 

Boulder County Parks & Open Space have co-signed the application/proposal, along with Cemex, to extend the plant’s mining permit 15 more years, which is a 60% increase. There is no application that exists for extending a permit, so it should be a new permit, which would trigger environmental and public health studies. It is a conflict of interest for Boulder County to be the applicant, the referral agency and the approver. There is zero benefit for the public; this is about corporate profits, county revenue and land acquisition.

The Town of Lyons officially recommended rejection of the Cemex proposal, stating plans for a solar farm that could power the entire town. Air quality is an issue in Lyons because of the landscape and trapped pollution, which would be improved greatly by simply allowing Cemex’s permit to expire.

Cemex stated in the last hearing that we need its cement, and that building a facility elsewhere doesn’t help the climate crisis and gives others the pollution problem. If Cemex builds elsewhere, it would be a new, updated plant that would be subject to contemporary environmental regulations (not grandfathered old ones). In the last County Commissioners hearing on Sept. 15, a Houston-based executive for Cemex said it makes no sense to upgrade pollution controls in this 60-year-old plant if they are leaving in 15 years. Colorado has two other newer cement plants (that have lower CO2 emissions), so Cemex’s argument about needing their cement is also wrong.

Comments from the public hearings reveal clear opposition to this proposal. Boulder County commissioners need to be responsive to their constituents’ wishes and public health, and need to let this permit expire Sept. 30 by rejecting the application from Cemex and BoCo Open Space on Sept. 29. The public health cost and the cost of climate change from the carbon dioxide emissions will cost more than the county is gaining in this proposal. 

For more information, go to Good Neighbors of Lyons (goodneighborslyons.com). 

Kathleen Sands is the founder of Lyons Climate Action Coalition.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

Email: letters@boulderweekly.com

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