EPA sets haze regulations for taconite plantsThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its final regulations Wednesday aimed at reducing pollution from taconite plants that causes haze over northern Minnesota wild areas.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled its final regulations Wednesday aimed at reducing pollution from taconite plants that causes haze over northern Minnesota wild areas.
The regulations come after months of delay and will force some taconite operations to add expensive new pollution control equipment to curb nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and sulfur dioxides, SO2.
Environmental and public-health groups, and now the EPA, say that pollution not only causes haze over pristine areas like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Isle Royale and Voyageurs national parks, but also can cause lung ailments in people.
The plan “will reduce pollutants that are harmful to people’s health and impair visibility in national parks and wilderness areas,” the EPA said in announcing the final rule. The agency said the pollution controls are expected to reduce NOx emissions by about 22,000 tons per year and SO2 emissions by about 2,000 tons per year.
The rules affect all six taconite operations in Minnesota as well as the lone taconite operation on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. New plants also would be expected to meet the standards. Many coal-fired power plants already have been required to make similar upgrades.
The federal government stepped in after regulators concluded that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency didn’t go far enough to limit haze from taconite plants. The state in April essentially said the industry was doing all it could within reason to control haze pollution.
The feds issued their own rule last summer that said taconite plants must go further and do it faster including installing low-NOx burners to bake their taconite pellets — a so-called best available retrofit technology. The regulations go as far as setting specific limits on how much haze-causing air pollution each plant can emit.
The new rules as first announced in August would have required all the plants to install the pollution control technology within three years, and taconite companies balked at both the timeline and the potential cost.
Under the final rule, federal regulators apparently are allowing more time after the companies and state officials said that deadline would be impossible to meet.
“The timeline is the key, and we’re still trying to read through this and see what they are allowing,” said David Thornton, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The technology to reduce haze already has been tested at U.S. Steel Minntac operations in Mountain Iron and apparently worked well, state officials have said.
Supporters of stronger emissions rules for taconite plants say that, in addition to impairing visibility, haze pollutants contribute to heart attacks, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis and respiratory illness.
The affected mining and processing operations include the Tilden Mining Company in the U.P.; U.S. Steel’s Keetac plant in Keewatin and Minntac in Mountain Iron; Arcelor Mittal’s Minorca Mine in Virginia; and Cliffs Natural Resources-run operations Hibbing Taconite, United Taconite in Eveleth and Northshore Mining Co. in Silver Bay.
A spokeswoman for Cliffs said the company needs time to review the 200-page decision before making a comment.
The EPA said that any difference in visibility of about 1 “deciview’’ is noticeable by most people. By reducing the taconite emissions, visibility should increase by anywhere from 7 to 12 deciviews across Northland wild areas, the EPA said Wednesday, meaning the air will be noticeably more clear on many days.