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Clean Air Advocates Urge EPA to Protect Minnesota’s Public Health, Economy and Natural Resources

State submits weak plan to control air pollution from coal plants & other polluters
April 24, 2012
St. Paul, MN —

Today, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen’s (MPCA) Board voted to submit a state plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that falls far short of Clean Air Act requirements and fails to reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas while continuing to put our health at risk.

Voyageurs National Park on a clear day, left;
and a hazy day, right.
(National Parks Conservation Association)

Pollution from nearly a dozen coal burning power plant and taconite facilities has been linked to dirty air over northern Minnesota’s natural areas, including Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks and the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The federal Clean Air Act requires air over parks and wilderness areas to be pristine by mandating large, antiquated industrial polluters use modern and efficient pollution controls.

The pollutants that cause haze or “smog” in our national parks are the same pollutants that contribute to heart attacks, asthma attacks and emergency room visits for asthma, chronic bronchitis and respiratory illness. Health related costs from hospital admissions, lost work days, and premature death are the hidden price of continued pollution.

Despite repeated calls and opportunities to send a state plan to EPA that makes real improvements in air quality and that follows the law, Minnesota simply gives a pass to taconite and coal. In fact, the MPCA even went so far as to weaken the plan at the request of one of the taconite facilities since the last Board meeting in March. Federal land managers and clean air advocates asserted that the state must require old coal-fired power plants and aging facilities that process taconite to install the best available pollution controls as the law requires.

“Old, dirty coal-fired power plants and the taconite facilities have had a free ride for too long,” said Christine Goepfert of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The EPA and Minnesota owe it to our kids and grandkids to clean up the air so that these parks are unspoiled and beautiful for generations to come.”

"The pollutants contributing to dirty air in our national parks are damaging public health and the region’s economy,” said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm representing the clean air advocates. “Minnesota has simply used up its chances to do the right thing. It is now up to EPA to actually apply the law and show some leadership in protecting precious places like the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs’ National Park by holding these coal-fired facilities and taconite companies accountable for their impacts.”

Since 2008, Minnesota has revised its air pollution clean-up plan three times and each time it failed to get it right. The current proposal will result in little, if any, reductions in air pollutants that are fouling the air quality of the region’s national parks and wilderness areas. These same areas are important economic resources for the region. Voyageurs National Park brought in nearly $12 million in revenue in 2010, while the Boundary Waters Wilderness contributed $100 million to the local economy.

“Minnesota can and should do better to protect our majestic national parks and the region’s residents from the harms caused by these major polluters," said Kevin Reuther, Legal Director at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “Given the host of pollution control, efficiency, and alternative energy options, there is no excuse for the state to allow these amounts of damaging emissions. We urge EPA to take the reins and produce a sound plan for Minnesota."

It is now up to the EPA to determine if it will accept the State’s plan. A plan must be finalized regarding the coal plants by May 30 and for the taconite plants by November 15, 2012.

About the MPCA Citizens Board and Regional Haze

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens' Board considers and makes decisions on varied and complex pollution problems that affect areas of the state. These decisions are intended to achieve a reasonable degree of purity of the water, air and land resources of the state in order to provide for the maximum enjoyment and use of these resources for the welfare of the people.

The Citizens' Board consists of the commissioner and eight members who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate to four-year staggered terms. One member must be knowledgeable in the field of agriculture, and one member must be a representative of organized labor. The commissioner serves as chair of the Board. Meetings are held monthly. Members must file with the Ethical Practices Board. (Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)

The Clean Air Act requires that states submit plans to the EPA to clean up the air in their Class I areas. States and the EPA have been delinquent in meeting those deadlines. Once a state approves its proposed plan, the plan must be submitted to EPA for approval or disapproval. If EPA disapproves the plan, EPA must develop the plan itself.

Contacts

Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1029

Christine Goepfert, National Parks Conservation Association, (612) 270-8564

Kevin Reuther, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, (651) 287-4861

Jody Tableporter, Voyageurs National Park Association, (612) 333-5424

J. Drake Hamilton, Fresh Energy, (651) 726-7562

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.