Reducing Air Pollution over Voyageurs National Park

Clean Air Groups, Voyageurs National Park Association File Lawsuit Against EPA over Emissions at Minnesota Sherco Plant

Following years of delays by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require Xcel Energy’s Sherburne County Generating Station (Sherco) to meet modern emission standards, Voyageurs National Park Association joined a group of clean air advocates suing the EPA in federal court to require the agency to act. The lawsuit, brought by National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Fresh Energy, and Sierra Club, asks for an order requiring EPA to mandate the installation of best available retrofit technology (BART) at Sherco, which is needed to restore healthier air.

The pollution created by the 35-year-old Sherco plant is unhealthy for people and is a major contributor to the smog that obscures views in Minnesota’s beloved parks. In 2009, the National Park Service certified that the pollution from the Sherco coal plant significantly impairs visibility in Voyageurs and Isle Royale national parks. As a result, EPA was required to order installation of the best available pollution controls at this coal plant. But three years after the certification, EPA has still not acted. While state regulators recently forwarded a haze clean-up plan to EPA for approval, that plan is deficient in numerous ways and does not require available controls for Sherco that would most effectively reduce the coal plant’s unhealthy visible air pollution. Technologies that remove up to 90 percent of emissions are available and have been installed in similar plants elsewhere, but Xcel has not installed these technologies at Sherco.

"Clean air is important for all. Also it helps to ensure that places like Voyageurs National Park can continue to anchor Minnesota’s recreation and tourism industry. We encourage EPA to act," said Jody Tableporter, VNPA executive director.

“The EPA has had ample time to make the determinations we are asking them to make,” said Kevin Reuther, MCEA legal director. “We hope this action will spur the EPA to force the Sherco facility to meet modern air quality standards and to stop compromising people’s health and the ecosystems of our national treasures.”

“People come from all over the country to enjoy our wilderness,” said Betsy Daub, policy director for Friends of the Boundary Waters. “They come expecting clean air and beautiful views, not visible air pollution from Sherco that reaches into the wilderness canoe country, obscuring views and harming the public.”

Clean air advocates had asked the state and EPA to make cleaning up Sherco part of the state air cleanup plan recently adopted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Board. The agencies, however, said they would deal with Sherco, Minnesota’s biggest polluter, later. EPA’s continued delay is unreasonable and places a burden on residents’ health as well as Minnesota’s iconic parks. The failure to resolve Sherco’s pollution certification as part of the state cleanup plan is a waste of public resources, delays important air quality improvements, and makes the current state cleanup plan out of compliance with federal regulations.

To ensure compliance with existing regulations and long lasting enjoyment and preservation of national treasures like Voyageurs National Park, we are asking the court to require EPA to take immediate action to remedy these violations by determining and ordering pollution control requirements for Sherco.


Photo by Don Breneman