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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Cement Firm Wins Stay on Order to Stop Burning Waste

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A cement company has been granted permission to continue burning hazardous waste as part of its manufacturing process while a federal order to cease the burning is appealed in court, authorities said Thursday.

National Cement Co. of California burns a mixture of petroleum and spent, hazardous solvents in its kiln near Lebec to generate the heat necessary to manufacture cement. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had ordered the company to stop burning as of Thursday.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco granted a stay to the company Wednesday, said National Cement president Don Unmacht.

He said such victories are rare against a government agency. “In order to get a stay you usually have to convince the judge you’re going to ultimately prevail on the appeal,” he said.

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But Unmacht said the decision is only a small step in a legal battle that is expected to take years. Arguments on the appeal are scheduled to be heard sometime in November.

The burning has been opposed for several years by Desert Citizens Against Pollution, a small group of area residents who claim fumes from the burning are causing health problems for residents. The group filed a civil lawsuit earlier this month against National Cement demanding that the burning be stopped. The group’s leaders called the suit a “backup” measure in the event that the EPA’s order fails.

“These citizens groups are tenacious and we will wait for the next round,” said Lyle Talbot, a Desert Citizens member. “Someday they will have to pay the pollution piper, we hope.”

Part of the dispute involves the Tejon Ranch Co., owner of the land the incinerator is on. Tejon officials said that they are aware of the burning, but that they are not participants in its supervision and direction as the EPA requires. Tejon Ranch is about 30% owned by Times Mirror Co., publisher of The Times.

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