Groups ask EPA to Review Operating Permit for Minnesota Plant cited as Major Air Polluter

Date:   October 18, 2010
Contact:   Lynn McClure, National Parks Conservation Association: 312.263.0111
Cory MacNulty, Voyageurs National Park Association: 612.333.5424
Betsy Daub, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness: 612.332.9630

Groups ask EPA to Review Operating Permit for Minnesota Plant cited as Major Air Polluter

St. Paul, MN—National parks and clean air advocates have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to object to a recently issued permit for the United Taconite processing facility in Forbes, Minnesota, to ensure compliance with the Clean Air Act.

The petition outlines why the permit, granted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), unlawfully and improperly allows United Taconite to avoid statutory pollution reduction requirements for plant modifications. The permit supersedes the mandated review process and allows the plant to operate with inadequate pollution controls and harmful emissions.

“The law is clear. This permit must include everything in the Clean Air Act that applies to United Taconite. And it doesn’t,” said Cory MacNulty, executive director, Voyageurs National Park Association.

Regional haze regulations require that states, under EPA guidance, design and implement programs (State Implementation Plans) to curb haze-causing emissions, including those from the oldest and dirtiest polluters. United Taconite is required to reduce its emissions under the Minnesota Regional Haze State Implementation Plan, but the contested permit uses those emission reductions again this time to “cancel out” new emissions increases, thereby avoiding pollution controls.

“By double-crediting for the same emissions reductions, United Taconite and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency are undermining the Clean Air Act,” said Lynn McClure, Midwest regional director, National Parks Conservation Association. “It’s like writing two checks, each for everything left in your account, and expecting not to be overdrawn—the people and parks of the Midwest cannot afford accounting like that.”

The petition also notes that MPCA issued the permit without adequately responding to comments, including those from both the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. Additionally, MPCA failed to properly account for a pollution source within the facility that was inactive for many years.

“These operating permits help ensure that existing requirements are appropriately applied to facilities,” said Betsy Daub, policy director, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “Clean air, especially within our national parks and wilderness areas, is protected by law, and we need the EPA to do their part to meaningfully enforce these laws."

United Taconite emits the most sulfur dioxide pollution among iron ore refiners in Minnesota and has repeatedly faced state fines for air quality violations. Per unit of taconite ore produced, United Taconite’s sulfur dioxide emissions have been nearly six times higher than any other taconite processor in the state.

The United Taconite facility is roughly 60 miles from Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and is within 200 miles of Isle Royale National Park, all Class I areas which are mandated to receive the highest air quality protections under the Clean Air Act. As such, these parks should have the cleanest air in the country. The Clean Air Act requires states to take steps to improve and protect air quality particularly in these areas. In 2008, Voyageurs and Isle Royale alone supported more than 400 local jobs and saw nearly 236,000 recreation visits. In that same year park visitors and staff contributed more than $16 million to local economies.

Click here to view the full petition.

To learn more about National Parks and the Clean Air Act visit NPCA online.

Of the 392 national park sites in the U.S. National Park System, 1 in 3 already suffers the harmful effects of air pollution. Many of the once clear, natural views at America’s most iconic national parks are among those affected including the Grand Canyon. As a result of a lawsuit filed by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in 2008, and in addition to today’s petition, the EPA must finalize a regional haze cleanup plan for every state that does not have one by January 15, 2011.

Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting our national parks. With 325,000 members and supporters, NPCA is the largest independent, membership organization dedicated to protecting the natural, cultural, and historic treasures of our National Park System. Our mission is to protect and enhance our national parks today for our children and grandchildren tomorrow.

Regional Haze Timeline

1977 Some national parks have special protections under the Clean Air Act. In 1977 Congress updated the Clean Air Act to designate certain federal lands as “Class I areas,” which gave them the greatest level of protection. To qualify as Class I areas, the lands were required to be international parks or national wilderness areas, national memorial parks, or national parks of a certain size, and established before August 7, 1977.

1999 The Environmental Protection Agency established regulations in 1999 to eliminate regional haze and improve air quality in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. Known commonly as the “Regional Haze Rule,” it requires states, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, and state governmental entities to develop and implement air quality protection plans (State Implementation Plans or Federal Implementation Plans) to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment.

2007 The first deadline for states to submit plans to eliminate regional haze was December 17, 2007. However, 37 states failed to submit completed plans that complied with the Regional Haze Rule.

2008 In October 2008, NPCA sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to enforce deadlines for the states to adopt these clean air plans.

2009 On January 15, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding that 37 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands failed to submit appropriate State Implementation Plans.

The Environmental Protection Agency must finalize a regional haze cleanup plan for all states that do not have one in place by January 15, 2011. State plans must include a long-term strategy and “Best Available Retrofit Technology” (BART) for certain existing sources of pollution—most notably coal-fired power plants—that will lead to the elimination of visibility impairment in the 156 national parks and wilderness areas protected under the Clean Air Act.

Reassessment and revision of plans and established reasonable progress goals and strategies are scheduled for 2018 and every 10 years thereafter. States strategies should address their contribution to visibility problems in Class I areas both within and outside the state.

2064 Year by which states are to eliminate human-made haze pollution in the 156 protected areas. This date marks the goal for achieving national visibility conditions for parks and wilderness areas through regional haze implementation plans.



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