US legal official says Ecocem plan for factory breaks state laws

Subsidiary of Irish firm pushing to build ‘green’ cement plant in San Francisco bay

California’s top legal official says environmental reports on Irish group Ecocem’s plans for a factory in San Francisco Bay violate state laws.

Ecocem's subsidiary Orcem Americas has spent three years seeking permission to build a "green" cement mill in Vallejo, California, despite opposition from locals who fear its impact on the environment.

California attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has written to Vallejo's planning and development services co-ordinator, Afshan Hamid, warning that documents detailing the project's impact violate the California Environmental Quality Act.

The attorney says a draft report on the mill’s environmental impact indicates that nitrogen oxide emissions – which contribute to smog – would exceed limits set out in an air quality management plan for the San Francisco Bay area.


Similarly, the letter, signed on Mr Becerra's behalf by his deputy, Erin Ganahl, warns that Orcem mill's greenhouse gas emissions could be greater than those outlined in the report.

The attorney also describes an environmental justice analysis of the project as misleading. He says it fails to address the mill’s likely impact on nearby disadvantaged and minority communities that already have to bear more than their fair share of pollution. Campaigners against the project have highlighted its proximity to poorer and minority communities in Vallejo.


California law requires local government to set out the potential environmental consequences of proposals such as Orcem’s, along with any steps to eliminate or reduce them, before planners consider them.

The state’s attorneys general do not normally intervene in planning disputes. However, Mr Becerra states that he is using his power to protect California’s environment and resources to comment on the Vallejo project.

Orcem chief executive Stephen Bryant said a new environmental impact report, due in two weeks, would address key issues such as air quality that Mr Becerra raises. "It is unusual that he did not wait to see that before commenting," Mr Bryant added.

He pointed out that the company paid for an environmental justice analysis, although it was not legally required to do so, and felt it answered many of the concerns raised.

‘Economic justice’

“But equally, amongst our supporters it’s about economic justice,” Mr Bryant said. He argued that many locals back Orcem’s proposals because a decline in living wage jobs is forcing people out of Vallejo.

Mr Bryant estimated that Orcem could employ at least 190 people directly. “All the jobs onsite will be union jobs with pensions and healthcare,” he said.

Ecocem’s reputation is built on the fact that it makes “green” cement. Orcem will process slag shipped from iron furnaces to make the building material, a process it says results in 90 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions that normal cement manufacture.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas