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
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
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
Millett said he could not comment on the litigation.