While EPA rule looms, lawmakers line up behind brick industry

Published 5:52 pm Saturday, January 25, 2014

Henry Brick and the brick industry are playing the waiting game with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is preparing to introduce a Maximum Achievable Control Technology Rule, which would force companies like Henry Brick to increase the amount of pollutants it captures. Currently Henry Brick captures 96 percent of pollutants. The proposed rate is 99 percent.

The MACT was originally scheduled to be introduced in February, but, because of the government shutdown last year, it is being pushed back to March or April, according to Henry Brick President Davis Henry.

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“Until that comes out, we won’t really know anything,” Henry said. “Time will tell what we ultimately have to do.”

Henry Brick’s capture rate is in compliance with a 2003 MACT that required brick companies to capture 96 percent of emissions. It cost the brick industry nearly $100 million to comply with the rule.

But that rule no longer exists. In 2007, a federal court struck down the MACT, meaning the regulations were no longer in effect. Unfortunately, Henry Brick and other companies already updated their equipment.

A statement from the EPA said the regulations are necessary under the Clean Air Act — designed to reduce air pollution — because no current rules exist to control emissions.

One of the potential additions to emission regulations is mercury, Henry said.

“There are some unknowns about what they might require you to scrub in addition to increasing the capture rate,” Henry said. “Mercury is one of those things. To capture trace amounts of mercury would run our costs way up.”

He said some brick manufacturers are in better shape to capture mercury, but for his company, it would require tearing his entire capture system apart and replacing it.

“We are not convinced that we emit mercury,” he said. “If we do, it’s in such trace amounts that we can’t measure it.”

To bring its capture rate to 99 percent, Henry estimated the company would have to spend nearly $8 million. Compounding future problems is the fact Henry Brick hasn’t reopened it second production facility, which was shuttered five years ago, shortly after the recession, meaning less revenue generated than the company is capable of.

Henry and the brick industry aren’t taking on the EPA alone. The looming introduction of the MACT attracted attention from U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

Sessions and Sewell were among more than 30 legislators who sent a letter to the EPA in November, asking it to consider the effect of the regulations on the brick industry.

“This ‘brick MACT’ could jeopardize the economic viability of brick manufacturers and distributors in our states and imperil hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide,” the letter states. “The limited quantity of emissions generated by brick manufacture — especially as compared to other regulated industries subject to recent MACTs — justify full consideration of the health-based approach.”

As a part of his statewide tour in December, Sessions visited Henry Brick and talked to the company’s management about the problems they face.

Instead of potentially costing the brick industry hundreds of millions of dollars, Sessions and Sewell advocate for the EPA introduce an environmentally responsible and cost-conscious rule.

“A reasonable standard would ensure that this essential industry can continue to thrive,” Sewell said in a statement. “Henry Brick has been a family-owned staple in the Selma community for almost 70 years. Since its inception, this company has remained a main source of small business employment and economic development for the City of