Lawmakers squabble; mercury pollution continues in Minnesota


A bill making its way through the State Legislature aims to repeal a 2007 law that limits the amount of coal-generated power Minnesota can use in an effort to regulate emissions from coal plants.

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to propose a standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. Given that, and the nation’s move toward renewable energy standards, Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul) feels it would be unwise to step off the clean energy path that creates jobs for Minnesotans.

“We have an opportunity to be energy-independent by using our own power sources, like wind, solar, and biomass. That’s a clean path, and a path towards a future which we should remain on – instead of going backwards to polluting coal. That puts not only carbon emissions into the air, but mercury into our fish, and threatens the health of children.”

Last week, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said “clean coal” equipment is not yet available for larger power plants, and that several of the nation’s aging coal plants will be closed within the decade due to mercury and other chemical pollutants.

Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shapokee), chief author of the House bill to roll back the restrictions, argues that the technology to remove 90 percent of the mercury from coal plant emissions does exist. In his view, building new coal plants in Minnesota would keep the tax base local, and provide a reliable form of energy that the state needs.

“Our alternative forms of energy, what they call ‘renewable’ or ‘clean energy’ sources, they’re not ready for prime time. They’re not ready to step up and carry the base load power needs yet, and expecting them to do is unrealistic and setting them up for failure.”

Industry experts say a move back to coal would hurt many Minnesota companies, including 3M, that are developing renewable energy technology.

Jessica Buchberger, field associate for Environment Minnesota, says a report from the national group Environment America found that, in 2009, coal-powered plants in Minnesota emitted more than 1,600 pounds of mercury pollution.

“Mercury pollution is actually so widespread that the EPA estimates that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her child at risk, should she become pregnant.”

Minnesota is one of 19 states with mercury pollution control standards. However, Buchberger does not believe state-level regulation is sufficient. She points out that airborne mercury pollution knows no state boundary lines, and that surrounding states without pollution control standards continue to put Minnesotans at risk.

“It needs to be cleaned up on a national level, and we’re encouraging the EPA to set a strong federal standard for mercury pollution across the board, so that we can have a healthier nation.”

The Environment Minnesota report can be found at

Buchberger adds that mercury causes what is known as a “bio-accumulation” affect in fish and wildlife, which means it grows more toxic as it moves up the food chain.

The Minnesota Department of Health releases advisories listing how much fish is safe to eat from area lakes and rivers due to mercury levels, which are available at