By Patrick Condon Associated Press
St. Paul (AP) — The amount of mercury released into Minnesota’s
environment by coal-fired power plants would decline by 1,200
pounds a year, under a plan Gov. Tim Pawlenty and lawmakers
released last week, and that passed the House 132-to-0 on
The new mercury emission standards would govern the state’s
largest coal-fired power plants. Under the legislation, Xcel
Energy’s plants in Becker and Oak Park Heights and Minnesota
Power’s plant in Cohasset will reduce their emissions by 90
That will help Minnesota exceed a new federal standard of a 70
percent mercury reduction by 2018, Pawlenty said.
“States have the ability to move more quickly, more nimbly than
the federal government,” Pawlenty said. “The goal the federal
government set is too low and too slow.”
Under the legislation, the utilities must install monitoring
equipment by the middle of next year, and have an initial reduction
plan developed by 2009. They can develop a second plan and must
have all installation of equipment done by 2014.
Mercury can have numerous ill effects on people’s central
nervous systems, and poses particular risks for pregnant women, and
babies and young children whose brains and spinal cords are still
Most human exposure to mercury comes by eating fish that’s been
contaminated by the toxin. The mercury bill’s chief Senate sponsor,
Minneapolis DFLer Scott Dibble, said two lakes in his district are
off-limits for fishing because of mercury.
“You can’t eat them, and that’s a shame,” Dibble said of fish
from Cedar Lake and Lake Calhoun.
Supporters of the bill touted the collaborative approach that
brought it together, with input from both environmental and
business groups. The press conference announcing the bill featured
the unlikely spectacle of remarks from leaders of the state
chapters of both the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce.
“For (environmentalists) and for the utilities, this really
comes out to a win-win for everybody,” said John Tuma of the
Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
The plan also calls for the Minnesota Public Utilities
Commission to review the mercury reduction plans brought forward by
the power plant owners, to make sure they don’t impose unreasonably
high rate increases on power customers.
It’s difficult to say how much the tougher emission standards
will affect power bills. Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park,
cited one study on emission reductions that showed an increase of
55 cents to $1.55 per power bill, though she said that study
covered a more sweeping mercury reduction plan that forced a
steeper increase in bills than Minnesota will see.
The bill comes late in the legislative session, but Dibble and
the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said they
expect it will get broad support from the Legislature.
The Senate is expected to take the issue up on Thursday, and
likely will concur with the House bill, Tuma said.