Clean air advocates say more steps are necessary to reduce Xcel Energy’s Sherco coal plant pollution that harms community health, national parks, wilderness
Today clean air advocates announced an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Northern States Power Company (NSP, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy) to require its Sherburne County Generation Station (Sherco) in Minnesota to reduce its harmful emissions. More reductions will be necessary to prevent ongoing degradation to the Midwest’s most pristine places, including Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Voyageurs and Isle Royale National Parks.
“Nearly 240,000 visitors enjoy kayaking, hiking, boating, camping, and fishing in Voyageurs National Park each year and contribute more than $18 million to the local economy,” said Christina Hausman, executive director of Voyageurs National Park Association. “Minnesotans and national park visitors from around the world expect and deserve clean air and clear visibility while enjoying the beauty of Voyageurs.”
The agreement will bring an end to a lawsuit brought by advocates, which include the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park Association, Fresh Energy and the Sierra Club. To help mitigate air quality problems at Voyageurs and Isle Royale national parks, which the National Park Service found were caused by pollution from Sherco, the settlement requires Sherco to comply with significantly reduced sulfur dioxide emission limits.
More specifically, the settlement requires NSP, by the end of 2015, to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from two of the three Sherco units by approximately 10,000 tons annually, and will require further reductions of sulfur dioxide from the third unit by mid-2017. EPA has agreed to finalize the terms of the settlement through a federally enforceable implementation plan in exchange for dismissal of the lawsuit.
"Minnesotans can celebrate this agreement as a smart decision that reduces harmful air pollution,” said Michelle Rosier of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “But Minnesotans also want to see a transition plan beyond coal that makes room for Minnesota wind, solar and efficiency.”
The groups filed the lawsuit in 2012 after years of EPA’s delay in taking the steps legally required to curtail the pollution created by the 35-year-old Sherco plant, the dirtiest in Minnesota. The plant’s emissions are a major contributor to smog that jeopardizes public health and reduces visibility in the region’s treasured national parks and wilderness areas, such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“The long-term health of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the communities around it depend on a commitment to clean air for the region,” said Paul Danicic, Executive Director of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “Cleaning the air benefits people, economies and wildlife.”
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 verify the impairment and order the installation of the best available pollution controls at this coal plant. But three years after the certification, EPA had failed to act.
“Today’s settlement represents a strong first step toward protecting Midwest communities and treasured natural landscapes,” said Stephanie Kodish, director and counsel of NPCA’s Clean Air Program. “Under this agreement, Sherco will make meaningful smog reductions that will improve air quality and public health, but those reductions will not be enough to eliminate the plant’s impact on the region’s national parks and wilderness areas. NSP can and must do more to clean up Sherco emissions and transition the plant to cleaner energy to help restore clean, clear skies to the region.”