EPA sets new haze regulations for Minnesota taconite plants

By John Myers

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, 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 would also 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 state 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.

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