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FREE SPEECH ZONE | EPA public hearing on Regional Haze (Boundary Waters air pollution) Wed, Aug 29th
The US Environmental Protection Agency usually delegates environmental permitting to the states and supervises with a light hand. Minnesota is no exception. But something called a "Federal Implementation Plan" (FIP) exists as a backup for when a state agency refuses to carry out the law. EPA uses FIPs rarely and reluctantly--not nearly often enough, in my opinion--generally preferring to "work with" the state agencies.
EPA, out of the Chicago office (Region 5) is doing a FIP in response to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's refusal to regulate air emissions from iron ore processing plants. A public hearing will be held on August 29, 2012, from 10 to 2 pm, at the MPCA in St. Paul. Public comment will be taken until September 28, 2012 (send to aburano [dot] douglas [at] epa [dot] gov). More information here: http://www.epa.gov/region5/mnhaze/
For background on this, see my previous piece " MPCA betrays air quality in the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park." A fragment:
- Pollution originating in Minnesota has been determined to be causing haze in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, and Isle Royale National Park.
- The biggest sources of this air pollution are taconite and steel making projects, and the Xcel energy Sherco coal burner. These, of course, are also the most politically connected polluters in Minnesota. Thus, the MPCA has submitted a plan to the EPA requiring Xcel and the taconite people to do--essentially--NOTHING. (Xcel Energy says this about Sherco "The plant burns 30,000 tons of coal every day (three trainloads) and more than nine million tons a year. A rotary car dumper, which literally turns a rail coal car upside down, unloads one car every three minutes and an entire train in just over six hours.")
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- The MPCA's official name for nothing is "BART"--Best Available Retrofit Technology. Except that, in the MPCA's view, there isn't any. The MPCA's plan, as submitted to the EPA for approval, basically says these facilities have already done all they should be required to do. Anything more would be too expensive or technically impossible. (in 2003, the MPCA hired Barr Engineering, a notorious polluters' consulting firm, to write a report concluding "The affordability of BART must be analyzed on a site-specific basis. Given the current economics of the industry, a significant cost burden associated with BART could impact the future viability of the industry.")
The EPA has made its own "BART" determinations, based on data from the industry itself and from the MPCA. But EPA's conclusions are different.
A little on the meaning of BART. First, it's a "technology based" requirement, not a health or environment based. It means technology that is readily available to put on ("Retrofit") existing facilities at reasonable cost. A BARTed facility may still be very dirty compared to a new one. A reasonable-cost filter is applied, in terms of cost per ton of pollutant kept out of the air. In practice, the process of determining BART tends to favor the industrial side.
In this case EPA determined that BART for the excessive "NOx" emissions is "low-NOx burners." This is an inexpensive approach: The cost per ton is a few hundred dollars against EPA criteria of a few thousand dollars. EPA also considered sulfur dioxide emissions, and calls for scrubbers in several cases. More detail is in a 35 page Federal Register notice, and a lot more detail in the docket folder.
My impression is that the requirements are gentle, and deeper reductions could be justified. The timetable for compliance is also gentle: five years in most cases. But withal, the FIP is a lot better than the Dayton administration's do-nothing, kiss-the-polluters'-butts approach.
Why is this happening?
Take a look at this MPCA organization chart for the Industrial Division. Note the boxes on the left, entitled "Metallic Mining." Alone among all the industries in Minnesota, mining has it's own shop in the PCA, focused on greasing the skids rather than regulating.
Now take a look at this state job announcement (I sent the email on April 18, 2012, with this subject line "A new position in the MPCA: Lobbyist for mining interests"):
State of Minnesota Job Posting:
- Working Title: Mining Coordinator
- Hiring Agency: Pollution Control Agency
- STATE PROG ADMIN MGR SR
- $ 30.13-$ 43.35 hourly, $ 62,911-$ 90,515 annually
- Job Description: The incumbent will be the mining subcabinet point person who will maintain relationships with state/federal agencies on mining regulatory matters, and will help coordinate among state agencies; Economic Development Mining Coordinator and mining companies to ensure mining regulatory issues and processes are addressed in a timely and complete manner. [Need I say, no mention of "coordinating" with health or environmental interests? After all, this is the "pollution control" agency!]
- See more here: https://statejobs.doer.state.mn.us/JobPosting/1ff54ad55ac88e57a2b840b9ceb979ca/View
If this bothers you, attend the hearing, or send in comments. The key point is to support EPA's proposed Federal Implementation Plan, and/or as that it be made stronger.
It appears to me that between political interference and budget cuts, the credibility of the entire MPCA air program is in question. EPA should seriously consider withdrawing the delegation of authority and taking over the entire program directly.