From: Steve Kuchera, Duluth News-Tribune
Published January 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Environmentalists Win Bid to Regulate Taconite Industry Mercury Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to develop proposed regulations for mercury and asbestos emissions from taconite plants.


EPA's concession came in the wake of 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 there's a lack of standards for the two substances in new air pollution regulations.


"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 NWF's Lake Superior Project.


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 groups argued.


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.


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The court didn't set a deadline, but in its request, 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 previously 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. 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 now has suggestions on control options and information on current 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 taconite 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 go forward."


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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