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Letter: Lyons community seeks compliance at CEMEX

"We respect and value the hard work of CEMEX’s employees. "
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The Longmont Leader received a letter to the editor from Good Neighbors of Lyons Sarah Lorang about CEMEX Lyons Cement Plant compliance.

In response to the letter by Mr. Erik Estrada, Cemex Lyons Plant Manager, we, the Good Neighbors of Lyons, wish to present a different perspective—one that recognizes the well-being of CEMEX employees, but also recognizes the broader community's right to a safe and healthy environment.

While we acknowledge the importance of plant employees, it is crucial to address the underlying issues without shifting the focus away from where it belongs: on CEMEX's operations and their impacts. Characterizing community efforts that hold CEMEX accountable as disregarding or targeting the workforce is not only misleading but it distracts from the substantial, yet avoidable, environmental and regulatory violations committed by CEMEX that warranted a $1.39M fine from CDPHE last week.

Compliance with local and state regulations is not optional, and actions taken to enforce regulations are not an attack on the workforce.

This is about safeguarding the community, including CEMEX employees. And the community closest to the plant, and arguably the most environmentally affected, is one of the poorest and most marginalized in Boulder County.

When CEMEX sought an extension of its mining operations, the proposal was for 15 more years without sufficient environmental consideration. Good Neighbors of Lyons and the Town of Lyons advocated for a more balanced 5-year extension with a compromise that would have allowed all stakeholders to benefit, including a transition plan and skills training for impacted workers.

Unfortunately, CEMEX chose not to engage or entertain a compromise. It is disingenuous to suggest that the community has not tried to negotiate solutions that consider both environmental safety and job security.

CEMEX had opportunities to submit a new mining application with the necessary environmental impact studies, or to appeal the Boulder County Commissioners’ decision to deny their mining extension. They opted against these actions, despite their public acknowledgement of the safety risks their alterations and enlargements would bring to the local community should their mine close. These calculated decisions by CEMEX underscore a pattern where CEMEX prioritizes their bottom line over environmental and community health.

CEMEX also has the opportunity to provide skills training to assist employees in transitioning to other employment opportunities should the plant close. Mr. Estrada informed Town of Lyons Trustees about plans to construct a state-of-the-art plant near the Colorado/Wyoming border, which could have been a seamless transition for many employees, ensuring continued employment under better conditions. Such initiatives would demonstrate a genuine commitment  to the workforce, without blaming the communities they operate in for trying to hold the company accountable for the regulations it has chosen to violate.

The Notice of Termination issued by Boulder County, due to enlargements and alterations of the plant’s nonconforming use that resulted in increased traffic hazards, underscores a pattern of negligence. Mr. Estrada's professed commitment to safety contrasts with CEMEX's inaction, such as failing to implement CDOT's safety-enhancing traffic pattern changes, as well as the plant’s decades-long problems with highly toxic fugitive dust emissions that remain unresolved today. CEMEX has consistently chosen to not implement measures to prevent regulatory violations. Even Boulder County Public Health has publicly and explicitly criticized CEMEX’s inaction during the on-going renewal process for the plant’s air quality permit.

It's also important to challenge the assertion that without the Lyons plant, Boulder County would need to "offshore" its cement needs, exacerbating environmental impacts. Colorado has other cement plants capable of meeting local demand without the significant regulatory breaches observed at the Lyons facility. Suggesting that local production is inherently less impactful ignores the potential for more sustainable practices and technologies that other plants might employ, specifically the LafargeHolcim cement plant in Florence, CO.

We respect and value the hard work of CEMEX’s employees. However, we believe that CEMEX’s management team can and should do more to secure not only their workers’ jobs but also the health and the well-being of the surrounding communities.

We invite CEMEX to re-engage with the community and local authorities transparently and constructively. Compliance is our goal. Closure would be the regulatory consequence for CEMEX’s decisions thus far. We are open to working together to maintain jobs while also upholding our community's right to a clean and safe environment.

Sincerely,

Sarah Lorang

Good Neighbors of Lyons