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Great Lakes Article:

Groups sue over taconite plant mercury rules
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune

Environmental groups have filed suit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency, saying new air pollution regulations don't address the problem of mercury pollution from taconite plants.

The National Wildlife Federation filed the petition for review against the EPA for the agency's new emissions standard for toxic air pollutants from the taconite processing industry.

The standard, released Oct. 30, failed to set limits for mercury and asbestos, and the group says regulating those pollutants is required by the Clean Air Act.

The petition was filed Dec. 29 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Minnesota Conservation Federation, Lake Superior Alliance and Save Lake Superior Association have joined as co-plaintiffs.

The groups say the taconite industry is the largest source of mercury in the Lake Superior basin, an area that has been targeted by the governments of Canada and the United States as a "zero discharge" area for mercury.

Only coal-fired power plants release more mercury in Minnesota, the National Wildlife Federation says. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause damage at high levels, especially in children and fetuses. It is released when coal is burned or taconite is heated, and some of it falls back to Earth, where it can become a toxic form that builds up in plants, fish and animals and humans that eat fish.

The groups are asking that the EPA set low mercury emission standards, then pay for research to help the taconite companies find ways to meet the limits.

"While we are not opposed to some form of relief for the taconite industry during its current economic hardship, we believe that the EPA rule should spur research and development of mercury control technology that would then be required when the industry is able to sustain the costs," said Jane Reyer of Grand Marais, senior counsel for the federation's Lake Superior Project. "We aren't out to shut down any mines. We just want this industry to move forward to control mercury. It seems like the only way to get the industry moving is to file a lawsuit."

Frank Ongaro, president of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota, said the taconite industry worked for nearly two years with the EPA looking at emissions standards and agree with regulators that additional reductions in mercury aren't possible now.

"There's no science available to say technology or equipment can do more than is being done," Ongaro said.

The EPA moved in October to regulate manganese, arsenic and lead, saying its new environmental standards for the taconite industry will reduce toxic air emissions by about 225 tons -- or 42 percent -- annually. Taconite plants in Minnesota and Michigan have three years to comply.

But while the eight taconite plants in Minnesota and Michigan produce about 700 pounds of mercury each year, the EPA concluded that the technology to effectively reduce emissions for taconite plant furnaces "isn't commercially available" and didn't set any standard for emission reduction. However, the scrubbers required for other emissions covered in the new regulations should reduce mercury by about 5 percent, EPA spokesman John Millett said.

Normally, the EPA targets the biggest sources of mercury by mandating changes in raw materials, fuel or work practices. None of those can be done at taconite operations, Millett said.

Millett said he could not comment on the litigation.

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