Sierra Club complains about emissions from two Minnesota coal plants

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Friday, December 5, 2014
DULUTH, Minn. -- Today dozens of faith, health, youth and environmental groups and leaders submitted a letter calling for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to protect public health and act on Minnesota Power’s outdated air pollution permits for its Taconite Harbor and Clay Boswell coal plants.

The expired permit for Taconite Harbor is now more than a decade overdue, causing significant breaches of federal health-based standards for sulfur dioxide pollution, putting nearby Northern Minnesota communities, iconic public parks, and recreation areas at risk.The Boswell coal plant is nearly three years expired. Similarly, it fails to protect against violations of health-based standards for sulfur dioxide pollution.  

Exposure to sulfur dioxide pollution from coal plants and other sources for as little as five minutes can cause lung function impacts, asthma attacks, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Children and adults with asthma are particularly at risk for adverse health effects from short-term sulfur dioxide pollution exposure. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, northeastern Minnesota has the highest rates per capita of asthma-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations in the state.

“Minnesota Power’s dirty coal plants threaten our health and natural treasures, like the Superior Hiking Trail,” said Dr. Gordy Dodge of Schroeder, Minn. “It’s time for the pollution control agency to step in and compel Minnesota Power to do the right thing. The people and places of northeastern Minnesota deserve better than harmful coal pollution.”

A recent settlement agreement between Minnesota Power and the Environmental Protection Agency requires these plants to reduce emissions, but air pollution modeling conducted by experts demonstrates that pollution from Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal plant will continue to result in significant violations of EPA clean air standards for sulfur dioxide pollution.

Minnesota Power’s Taconite Harbor coal plant pollution also adversely impacts some of the state’s most popular and iconic parks and public spaces, including the Superior Hiking Trail, Temperance River State Park, Crosby-Manitou State Park, Lutsen Mountains ski area, and the Sugarbush Ski trail on the shore of Lake Superior.

“Minnesotans prize these outdoor recreation resources and expect to breathe clean air as we enjoy the great outdoors,” said Ann Miller of Duluth.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is responsible for requiring Minnesota Power to comply with the federal health-based standards for sulfur dioxide pollution (known as 1-hour national ambient air quality standards for sulfur dioxide) and updating the outdated permits. Relying on the pollution reduction limits outlined in Minnesota Power’s settlement for other clean air violations at its coal plants is not sufficient to protect public health. 

Sierra Club, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and Fresh Energy met with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency today to discuss a plan to address the out-dated permits and ongoing clean air concerns with Minnesota Power’s coal plants.

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