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.
“The industry has basically received a decade of relief from the legal requirement of the Clean Air Act,” said John Walke, clean air director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Now that the time has come to follow the law, they have launched this sophisticated but brazen lobbying campaign.”
Rather than cut jobs, an agency analysis found that the compliance regulations could create as many as 1,000 jobs.
“It’s misleading to say that implementation of the Clean Air Act costs jobs,” EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power last week.
But the industry’s message appears to be prevailing.
On Tuesday, that subcommittee approved a bill that would delay the implementation of cement emission regulations for as many as five years and give the EPA 15 months to come up with new rules.
The bipartisan bill is the result of years of lobbying. The PCA alone has spent more than $1 million on lobbying each year for the past decade.
In the first six months of this year, the relatively small industry with just $6.5 billion in annual revenue spent $1.2 million on lobbying, according to disclosure records.
Cement companies have also been donating to political campaigns. During the midterm elections, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association’s political action committee gave about $35,000 to Democrats and $140,000 to Republicans, including Cantor.
Ash Grove Cement Co.’s president donated $15,000 to the Republican National Committee in June. The company also has hired Phillip Scaglia as a lobbyist. The former Hill staffer served for eight years as chief of staff to the late Rep. Karen McCarthy, a Missouri Democrat who was active on energy issues.
Several PACs tied to the cement industry have also given money to the campaigns of Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), who introduced the House bill to delay the EPA rules, and Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), whose yearlong effort — called the “Carter Campaign for American Cement Jobs” — helped create the bill.
“[Carter’s] got a bee in his bonnet about regulation. We just seem to be a good poster child for him,” O’Hare said.
Carter told Roll Call that the cement bill is just the beginning of the House’s renewed focus on regulations for the coming months.
“We need our industries to know that there’s some stability in their future,” Carter said.
If the bill clears the House, it still faces hurdles in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Frank Maisano, an energy media specialist at Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents cement companies, said Senators might try to delay the EPA rules by tacking legislation on to an upcoming spending measure.
The industry does have bipartisan support, and half of the cement it produces is used in government projects such as bridges and roads — the sort of infrastructure Obama calls for in his jobs plan.
“There are lots of Democrats who care about cement,” Maisano said. “It is the foundation industry for much of the infrastructure in this country.”
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.