Congressman Rick Nolan

Representing the 8th District of Minnesota
Facebook icon
Twitter icon
Flickr icon
YouTube icon
RSS icon

Duluth News Tribune: Court puts taconite plant haze rule on hold

Jun 19, 2013
In The News

The 8th District U.S. Court of Appeals has issued a stay against proposed new pollution requirements for Minnesota and Michigan taconite plants.

The stay, temporally delaying the new federal regulations, was sought by Cliffs Natural Resources, which operates three taconite plants in Minnesota and another operation in Michigan, and by ArcelorMittal, which runs the Minorca taconite operation in Minnesota.

The court action puts on hold a decision in January by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to demand new pollution-control devices for taconite plants aimed at reducing pollution from taconite plants that causes haze over northern parks and wild areas.

The new regulations would force some taconite operations to add expensive pollution-control equipment to curb nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and sulfur dioxides, SO2.

Environmental and public health groups, and now the EPA, say 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 EPA 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 order was signed Friday; it’s not clear when the case might be argued in court.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., praised the court order, saying it would give more time for Minnesota plants to develop the technology to solve the pollution problem without forcing them into costly improvements too soon.

Because of the court’s action, “no regulations can be issued until such time as the matter is litigated in federal court, which could take until the spring of 2014, or until the EPA and the mining companies reach an agreement acceptable to the court,” Nolan said in a news release.

“I will continue to work with the EPA and the mining companies to avoid more costly litigation and reach common-sense agreements on best available technologies and timeframes to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions, and retrofit the furnaces in each facility,” Nolan said.

A spokeswoman for Cliffs Natural Resources said the company would not comment on the court action because of pending litigation.

The rules would 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 2012 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 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 Co. 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.