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Court backs rules on plants' emissions

Justices OKd cement plants' pollution standards, rejecting environmental groups.

WASHINGTON - In a loss for environmental groups, a U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld new air pollution emissions standards for cement plants that the industry supports.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a challenge by environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, which said the emissions standards were not stringent enough.

The court did hand the challengers a partial victory by ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency could not carve out a special legal defense for plant operators to cite if they are sued by members of the public in the event of a plant malfunction.

The regulation sets standards for various pollutants, including mercury and hydrochloric acid. Plant operators are not required to comply with the new rule until September 2015.

There are 107 cement plants in 36 states, according to the Portland Cement Association, an industry group. Various cement producers, including Lafarge North America Inc. and Cemex SAB de CV, participated in the case in support of the rule.

The 2013 regulation was the second time the agency had tried to craft new standards. The previous attempt was sent back to the EPA for revisions by the appeals court in 2011.

When the agency amended the rule, it angered environmental groups by weakening the curbs on toxic soot pollution.

Friday's ruling means there will now be "more toxic pollution from this especially dirty sector," said John Walke, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Gregory Scott, president and CEO of the portland cement industry group, said in a statement that the EPA rule struck the right balance and is "essential to preserving jobs at domestic cement facilities."