Minnesota continues nation-leading effort to reduce mercury to protect Minnesotans’ health

Contact: Ralph Pribble, 651-757-2657

St. Paul, Minn. – The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has announced a new rule that will protect public health by reducing mercury emissions from taconite processing. The work to reduce mercury began under Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2007 and over the last seven years the MPCA has worked closely with the mining industry to develop the final rule. This rule will safeguard public health and the environment, while giving the mining industry long-term certainty and the time it needs to develop mercury reduction technology and strategies.

“In Minnesota, we have always found a way to support a thriving mining economy, while protecting the health of our citizens,” said MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine. “This rule to reduce mercury is an important step forward in safeguarding public health and working to meet our longstanding mercury-reduction goals. Mercury gets into the fish we eat, and affects brain function. Babies and young children are particularly impacted by the negative effects of mercury.”

The rule requires a few specific industries (including taconite) to define how they can reduce or eliminate mercury emissions from their processes. Specifically, iron mining companies will need to submit plans by 2018 that outline how they intend to achieve reductions by 2025. The rule also sets forth a consistent reporting requirement for all other major mercury-emitting industrial facilities (those emitting at least 3 lbs per year).

Minnesota already is a national leader in reducing mercury emissions from coal fired power utilities, currently on track toward reducing mercury 95 percent by 2016. Electric utilities are doing this by installing controls and reducing or eliminating the use of coal. For the taconite industry, reducing mercury will take new technologies because mercury is released when the rock that is mined and crushed for taconite production is heated in the furnaces.

The new rule acknowledges that the mining industry needs time to develop mercury-reduction technology and strategies, and gives the industry great flexibility as to how they meet goals for reductions. The MPCA agreed that if by 2018 the mercury goals are impractical or unachievable, taconite facilities will be allowed to submit alternative approaches to reduce mercury emissions that are practical and feasible for their operations.

Commissioner Stine emphasized that Minnesota’s work serves as a model for how to limit the harmful effects of mercury. Stine said that Governor Dayton is directing MPCA leaders and pressing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement similar rules in other states around the U.S to reduce non-Minnesota sources of mercury in Minnesota waterways and fish.

“This rule is the first of its kind in the nation and demonstrates Minnesota’s leadership on an issue that directly impacts the health of our citizens and environment," said Stine. "But we should not have to act alone.”