EPA plans taconite plant emissions
ENVIRONMENT: The agency agrees to set limits on mercury
and asbestos after coming under fire from conservation
By Steve Kuchera
The Duluth News Tribune
Published January 15th, 2005
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to
develop regulations for mercury and asbestos emissions
from taconite plants.
The EPA's concession came after a December 2003 federal
lawsuit filed against the agency in the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia. In the lawsuit complaint,
four plaintiffs, -- the National Wildlife Federation,
Minnesota Conservation Federation, Lake Superior Alliance
and Save Lake Superior Association -- contended that there's
a lack of standards for the two substances in new air
"The EPA has really been resistant to the idea of
setting a standard for mercury for this industry. We've
been fighting with them about this since they started
making this rule in 1999," said Jane Reyer of Grand
Marais, senior counsel for the Wildlife Federation's Lake
The taconite industry is the Lake Superior Basin's largest
source of mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause damage
at high levels, especially in children and fetuses, the
The EPA asked that it be allowed to voluntarily draft
the regulations on mercury emissions. A federal judge
granted that request Thursday. The court issued a similar
order Nov. 3 concerning asbestos.
The court didn't set a deadline, but in its request,
the EPA said it "intends to act with all due speed
to propose, take comment on and issue a final rule."
National and regional EPA spokesmen declined comment
Friday, but Reyer said, "We're really pleased with
the EPA's decision to take this back and look at it again."
The agency has set standards for other taconite plant
emissions. In October 2003, it released standards to regulate
manganese, arsenic and lead from Minnesota's six taconite
plants and two in Michigan. The EPA said the standards
will reduce toxic air emissions by about 225 tons -- or
42 percent -- annually. The taconite industry has until
late 2006 to comply with the standards. But the standards
didn't set limits for mercury and asbestos.
In its lawsuit response, the EPA said that it has suggestions
on control options and information on research that wasn't
available when the other rules were adopted.
Frank Ongaro, president of the Iron Mining Association
of Minnesota, said Friday that the industry has a voluntary
mercury reduction program.
"There's a number of research projects looking at
ways to capture mercury," he said, "but at some
point, there is only so much science available for additional
reduction. We will continue to work with the EPA as we