New Report: Mercury from Coal continues to negatively impact Minnesotans, Legislature looking for more coal fired pollution

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Michelle Hesterberg

Environment Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN – Sherburne County Power Plant in Becker emits 867 pounds of mercury every year—the most in Minnesota—according to the new Environment Minnesota report, Dirty Energy’s Assault on our Health: Mercury. The report found that power plants in Minnesota emitted 1,664 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009.  The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to propose a standard by March to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants.

“Powering our homes should not poison Minnesota’s kids,” said Jessica Buchberger, Field Associate for Environment Minnesota. “Mercury pollution from power plants puts our kids and our environment at risk, and we need the Environmental Protection Agency to force these facilities to clean up.”

Coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, emit mercury into our air.  The mercury then falls into our waterways from rain or snow, where it builds up in fish then the animals—and people—that consume the fish.  Even very small amounts of mercury can have significant impacts, as studies suggest that a gram-sized drop of mercury can contaminate an entire 20 acre lake. Research has found that certain lakes in Minnesota have fish that carry ten times the amount of mercury in their bodies than the fish that swam there in the 1930’s.

Mercury pollution is a widespread health risk. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her bloodstream to put her unborn child at risk for the health effects of mercury pollution, including learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and lower IQs, should she become pregnant. This means that more than 689,000 of the 4.1 million babies born every year could be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury pollution.

Mercury pollution harms our environment.  Fish and animals that consume fish suffer from reproductive failure and mortality as a result of mercury pollution. More U.S. waters are closed to fishing because of mercury contamination than because of any other toxic contamination problem. The EPA found that Lake Calhoun and Spring Lake are contaminated by mercury pollution, contaminating fish that live in the waterways.

Power plants in Minnesota emitted 1,664 pounds of mercury pollution in 2009. In total, coal-fired power plants emitted 138,259 pounds of mercury in 2009.

In spite of this, and that coal fired power plants are the number one source of mercury pollution in the environment, the Minnesota legislature is looking at the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act’s mandate that no new coal-fired power plants may be built in Minnesota, nor may electricity be purchased from a coal-fired power plant built after 2007 out of state. This measure was enacted as a way to encourage growth of the renewable energy field. By voting to remove this moratorium, the legislature would once again welcome dirty energy practices in the state, and could stifle the growth of renewable energy companies.

Senator Ellen Anderson, representing District 66, has stood up against ending this ban, saying, “”More coal plants mean more mercury in our fish and more mercury threatening children’s health. Minnesota needs to keep moving forward to a clean energy future, not going backwards to more coal.”

The report comes as the EPA is set to propose a standard to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants in March, and finalize the standard by November.  Environment Minnesota is calling on the EPA to issue a strong standard that will significantly reduce these harmful pollutants from power plants, and specifically cut mercury pollution by more than 90%. But while the EPA is undertaking this rulemaking, Congress and industry lobbyists are working to prevent the EPA from doing its job, by threatening to introduce legislation to block this and other rules to limit dangerous air pollution.

Jessica Tatro, Field Organizer for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, stated, “Mercury and other toxic pollution from coal is making us sick. Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency can enact and enforce safeguards to protect our health and hold corporate polluters accountable.”

“Minnesota parents do everything they can to protect their children’s health; now it’s time for the EPA to do its part,” said Buchberger. “Senators Franken and Klobuchar should stand up for Minnesota’s families and support the EPA.”