The Trump administration plans massive investment in public works to upgrade the country’s network of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, ports and waterways. And much of it— if not all— will be built with concrete produced from American-made cement.
Cement, the core ingredient in concrete, provides its strength, durability and resiliency. Concrete allows cities to rise and transportation networks to connect. Concrete creates office, retail and residential spaces, paves our streets and sidewalks, and supports our tunnels and subway stations. We walk on concrete, drive on it and live and work in buildings constructed with it.
Cement makes concrete possible, and concrete makes our entire civilization possible. We rarely give it a second thought because its ubiquity cloaks its significance — it is hiding in plain sight.
Society depends upon cement for the continuous process of constructing, expanding, improving and maintaining our built environment. The centerpiece infrastructure policy proposed by the new administration, an investment of over $1 trillion, will rely upon cement.
In view of the critically important role that cement plays in our world, we may be tempted to ask "where does this stuff come from?"
Making cement is a major industrial undertaking. It is produced by grinding limestone, blending it with other natural materials like clay and sand, and heating it in large industrial kilns to form pebble-sized stones called clinker. Once cooled, the clinker is ground with gypsum, limestone and other additives into the fine gray powder known as portland cement, which is the most widely used type of cement. When portland cement is mixed with water, it forms a paste that binds sand and rock together and hardens into concrete.
U.S. cement producers employ more than 14,300 workers in the country, representing an annual payroll of nearly $1 billion. When considering all industries connected to concrete production, the economic importance of the industry is even greater: nearly 535,000 U.S. workers with an approximate $25 billion annual payroll.
These numbers are likely to increase as the new administration and Congress promote infrastructure revival, but even such a large undertaking represents only a small fraction of total U.S. cement and concrete production.
The organization that I lead represents 93 percent of all U.S. cement manufacturing capacity, with more than 90 manufacturing plants in 32 states and distribution facilities in every state in the continental U.S. The cement shipped each year in the U.S. is valued at approximately $9 billion.
While U.S. cement manufacturers are ready for the expected uptick in demand, Washington can help by developing a more effective policy environment. Cement manufacturers look to Congress and the administration to provide sensible regulatory reform. Before any new regulations are enacted, government agencies should ensure that they are necessary, effective and based on sound science. Realistic cost-benefit analyses for all new regulations, with an emphasis on their impact on jobs, should be required. Generally, regulations should be designed to provide more flexibility and less burden on manufacturers, while still achieving important safety and environmental goals.
Safety is the top priority for cement manufacturers, and we support efforts to modernize the agencies responsible for administering health and safety laws and to make sure regulations reflect evidence-based methods to reduce injuries and improve safety outcomes.
When it comes to environmental regulations, the federal government should provide market-based incentives for emissions reductions and support the development of new and cleaner technologies. The primary responsibility for implementing and enforcing environmental standards should be restored to state and local regulators, who are closest to the environmental conditions and operations of the facilities within their jurisdictions.
In terms of specific infrastructure priorities, America’s cement producers believe that we need to expand oil, gas and other pipeline development to supply low-cost domestic energy, boost the economy and provide jobs, while conserving natural resources. We also need to invest in new coastal infrastructure to protect against natural disasters. And we need to rebuild our roads and bridges, which our civil engineers say warrant only a "D" grade.
America deserves to have the most durable, resilient and efficient infrastructure we know how to build. And U.S. taxpayers deserve to get the most out of their investment in that infrastructure. If we look at our options with an eye toward lifetime performance, we will build an infrastructure for this nation that our grandchildren will still be using many years from now.
What is the common thread connecting the ancient Roman Pantheon, the U.S. Capitol and today's super-tall skyscrapers? They all inspire awe — and they were all made using cement.
As America embarks on an historic public works era that will add to the list of human achievement, I am proud to say that the foundation will be based on cement.
Toscas is president and chief executive officer of the Portland Cement Association representing America’s cement manufacturers.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.