Groups appeal EPA approval of Minnesota regional haze plan

Clean air groups in Minnesota have appealed what they say are weak air pollution requirements recently approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within the state of Minnesota’s Regional Haze State Implementation Plan (SIP).

At risk are the Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) in northern Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, they said. The National Parks Conservation Association, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Minnesota Center of Environmental Advocacy, Fresh Energy, Voyageurs National Park Association and Sierra Club filed the appeal with the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Minnesotans deserve clean air and a healthy environment,” said Janette Brimmer, an attorney with Earthjustice, in an Aug. 13 statement. “It is unacceptable and inconsistent with long-standing requirements of the law to allow large industrial polluters to continue to dirty the air of treasured national places like the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs—places that are integral to Minnesotans’ history and culture and way of life. EPA should not settle for status quo dirty air in our national parks and wildernesses.”

The approved part of the SIP falls far short of Clean Air Act legal requirements and will allow pollution to continue fouling air quality, the groups said. Instead of requiring the best available retrofit technology (BART), as the law requires, the proposed haze plan relies on a trading scheme that will not adequately reduce pollution, the groups said. The National Park Service and the Forest Service have demonstrated that the Minnesota haze plan does not require the best available pollution controls and will instead result in more air pollution than if the EPA followed the law, they added.

“It’s high time to stop business as usual for old, dirty coal-fired power plants,” said J. Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy. “Given the host of pollution controls, efficiency, and clean energy options, there is no excuse for the state and EPA to allow the continuation of damaging levels of emissions. Let’s invest in clean energy rather than these dirty old coal plants.”

The appeal filed with the court on Aug. 13 was simply a notice, with the court setting a Sept. 24 deadline for the groups to file their initial brief.

Approved haze plan based on Cross-State Air Pollution Rule limits

Over the objections of various parties, EPA said in a June 12 Federal Register notice that it was approving revisions to the Minnesota SIP addressing regional haze for the first implementation period, extending through July 31, 2018.

EPA first proposed to approve this plan, which covers several coal-fired plants, on Jan. 25. In response to comments, EPA said June 25 that it is deferring action on emission limitations that Minnesota intended to represent BART for taconite facilities. EPA also deferred action on the requirements for Xcel Energy’s (NYSE: XEL) Sherburne County (Sherco) coal plant resulting from its certification as a source of reasonably attributable visibility impairment (RAVI).

Several commenters, including Earthjustice and Fresh Energy, urged that EPA not allow participation in the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) to serve as a substitute for meeting the requirements for source-by-source BART for electric generating units (EGUs). These commenters believed that reliance on CSAPR fails to meet the Clean Air Act requirements for BART, and contend that EPA’s determination that CSAPR is better than BART is flawed.

EPA said in response that the requirements for a BART alternative program state that “such an emissions trading program or other alternative measure must achieve greater reasonable progress than would be achieved through the installation and operation of BART.” EPA said it has also completed an analysis and proposed CSAPR as an alternative to BART for units located in the CSAPR states, which include Minnesota. In finalizing that rule on May 30, EPA responded to similar comments on that rulemaking.

EPA said in an Aug. 15 Federal Register notice that it is proposing a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) to address the requirement for regional haze BART for largely gas-fired taconite plants in both Minnesota and Michigan.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.