House Majority Leader Eric Cantor argued that the economy needs less regulations, such as the ones being placed on the cement industry.
After years of persistent lobbying, cement’s political moment has apparently arrived.
The small industry facing new environmental standards has spent millions of dollars to make itself the poster child for Republican deregulatory fervor.
“This is the foundation of America: concrete,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor declared last week at a Titan America cement plant in his Virginia district, where the Republican argued that the economy needs less regulations rather than the investments touted by President Barack Obama in his jobs bill.
Cantor also placed the upcoming cement rules on his list of “top 10 job-killing regulations,” which mainly targets Environmental Protection Agency actions. His district is home to many cement jobs, and industry leaders say small towns will be devastated by the costs of new air-emission standards on cement plants.
“This is certainly a positive moment for my industry,” Andy O’Hare, vice president of the Portland Cement Association, said of the recent Republican support. O’Hare also sees Obama’s recent rejection of EPA ozone regulations as a signal that the president recognizes that environmental rules can harm the economy.
The EPA’s Clean Air Act rules on mercury emissions from cement plants are set to roll out next month. The agency says the industry has had years to prepare for the new rules, and environmentalists say warnings of rampant job loss are wildly exaggerated.
But leading trade groups say the rules could be crippling.
“The timing of these EPA regulations couldn’t be worse,” O’Hare said, estimating 20 percent of cement plants would have to shut down, eliminating thousands of jobs at a time when business is already down from the recession.
Though the cement industry only employs about 15,000 Americans, such concerns have caught the attention of Republican leaders looking to highlight ways that regulations are stifling the economy.
The day before Cantor’s visit to the cement plant, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited the president of National Cement of Alabama to watch Obama’s joint address on jobs. The executive was one of 13 guests who the Speaker’s office said were “all employers who have run into unnecessary Washington-made barriers as they’ve tried to create jobs.”
Environmentalists call the industry’s claims bogus, saying other industries adapted to the Clean Air Act, which Congress passed in 1990, without significant job loss. Litigation has delayed the cement standards, which are designed to reduce toxins in the air that could cause premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.