In order to meet requirements of the Clean Air Act to address visibility impairment caused by air pollution in Class I areas (which, in Minnesota, are Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) on January 15, 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) to set air pollution standards in six taconite plants in northern Minnesota and one in Michigan. This will reduce the Nitrous Oxide (NOx) emissions by 22,000 tons per year and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emissions by 2,000 tons per year, thus improving the air quality and protecting the visibility of the air above Voyageurs National Park. The EPA stated that protecting the pristine air above Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area will not only reduce the pollutants which are harmful to people’s health, but will also benefit the tourism industry which contributes $10 million to Minnesota’s economy each year.
Last April, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued a State Implementation Plan (SIP) (see Minnesota’s Revised Regional Haze State Implementation Plan) which essentially stated the six taconite plants were doing all they could reasonably do to control the regional haze problem. However, EPA decided that the MPCA’s SIP was insufficient and is now requiring the plants to install low-NOx burners which are the Best Available Retrofit Technology, also known as BART. These will be installed within 26 months, and plants with two or three furnaces will have an additional year.
Voyageurs National Park Association, in collaboration with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, and National Parks Conservation Association, has been working together to ensure that the Regional Haze FIP will result in clean, clear air over Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Wilderness. The draft plan issued in the spring of 2012 contained positive steps for reducing harmful emissions, but failed to follow the legally required BART (Best Available Retrofit Technology) analysis that would identify appropriate technologies for attaining the highest emission reductions at eligible power plants in Minnesota. Failing to properly conduct the BART analysis could lead to an inadequate reduction of emissions and decreased visibility in Voyageurs National Park.
On September 3, 2009, VNPA and our partners prepared comments for the MPCA. READ our petition here: Petition to the U.S. Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture, submitted on behalf of VNPA and our partners (pdf)
Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) interviewed VNPA Executive Director Cory MacNulty for a feature on our collaborative efforts to clean up the air in northeastern Minnesota. Read and listen to the story here (original air date: August 18, 2009 on MPR’s All Things Considered.)