Will Senators’ Haste Make Waste Of Proven Market Forces?

Among those overseeing legislative and regulatory developments of consequence to concrete, aggregate and cement interests in the new Congress are Senators

CP Staff

Among those overseeing legislative and regulatory developments of consequence to concrete, aggregate and cement interests in the new Congress are Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). We are bound to hear Sen. Boxer’s name often, as the November elections paved the way for her to become the first female to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, through which bills driving the Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency pass. Sen. Bingaman and Sen. Lieberman will chair Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively.

Empowered by election results, the three wasted no time weighing in on climate change policy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with measures that could negatively impact cement users. They noted in a Nov. 15 letter to President Bush:

We have not been satisfied with the level of U.S. participation in the international negotiations or in reducing our own domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As incoming Chairs of three important Senate Committees on global warming, we seek your commitment to work with the new Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation in 2007. The U.S. must move to adopt economy-wide constraints on GHG emissions and then work with the international community to forge an effective and equitable global agreement.

We [all] agree that human-caused global warming is real and that we must pass legislation to address this threat. [In] June 2005, the Senate went on record for the first time in bipartisan support of mandatory limits on greenhouse gases by a 53-44 vote. We have reason to believe the number of Senators in support of such legislation is now even larger.

Few industries would feel constraints on GHG emissions more than portland cement, whose processing yields carbon dioxide from calcining (carbon removal) and clinker (kiln) phases. Prior to pursuing caps on carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions-potentially limiting domestic powder milling to levels far below U.S. consumption-Sen. Boxer and her colleagues might observe the environmental sustainability examples of companies like Holcim (US) Inc. It took the opportunity of last month’s Greenbuild 2006 Conference and Expo to unveil Envirocore, a family of cementitious materials that substitute for portland cement in concrete and mortars (page 12). Envirocore is a branding initiative by a company that sees the marketing value of products whose usage lowers net carbon dioxide emissions.

The emergence of an event like Greenbuild, which drew 13,000 to Denver this year, and its private sponsor, the U.S. Green Building Council (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design/LEED rating system developer), underscores the shifting priorities of many prospective cement and concrete customers and specifiers. Perhaps the new Senate leadership will recognize how architects, engineers and public or private construction buyers can exert a powerful market force effectively reducing the GHG emissions tied to finished concrete.

Alongside Envirocore, we see in a companion (page 12) report that the federal government can help advance green building measures through means other than hard GHG emissions caps. Recipients of the EPA’s 2006 Coal Combustion Products Partnership awards include Wal-Mart Stores Inc., recognized for adopting fly ash concrete in its massive slabs on grade. Wal-Mart officials know the value of a green building track record. As they set construction guidelines, concrete customers of Holcim and other cement suppliers tailor mix designs accordingly.

If market forces yield the same or better GHG emissions-reducing result than regulations, buyers prove better catalysts than lawmakers.