On the Issues
MINNESOTA MERCURY REDUCTION LAWS WILL LEAD THE NATION
May 9, 2006
It's not every day that we have good news to report from the State Capitol on the environment, but last week the Legislature passed and the Governor signed the best mercury reduction law in the country in percent reduction and the number of facilities affected.
I am as proud as anyone to help lead our state in this major first step. It has taken tireless persistence to broker an agreement between utilities, environmental advocates, the Governor, and House and Senate leadership, but we have succeeded in passing legislation unanimously in the House to reduce mercury emissions from the four major coal-burning power plants in Minnesota by 90% before 2014. This bill should reduce overall mercury emissions in Minnesota by one-third.
But the reality is that right now, much of the fish we catch in our lakes is unsafe to eat because of mercury contamination. Mercury is a potent nerve toxin that causes learning and developmental disabilities in young children. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that more than 600,000 babies born each year in the U.S. are at risk of developing learning and behavioral disorders due to mercury exposure. Low-income people and others who rely on fishing as an affordable or culturally important source of nutrition are especially at risk.
Coal-fired power plants are the biggest man-made source of mercury emissions. For years, utilities and some business groups have resisted capping mercury emissions from coal plants, arguing that only 8 or 9% of mercury contamination in Minnesota originates here. But brand-new scientific studies directly contradict this claim.
A recent Environmental Protection Agency study in the Ohio River Valley found that 70% of the mercury pollution there comes from local or regional coal-fired power plants. The state of Massachusetts implemented mercury controls on incinerators seven years ago. A state study released last month showed a 32% drop in mercury levels of fish in lakes near a cluster of incinerators.
It has become clear that Minnesota cannot wait for the federal government to meaningfully address mercury pollution. The power of our federalist system is that state legislatures can pass progressive legislation when the federal government refuses to act. We have seen that when Minnesota leads, the nation follows, as it did with acid rain protection and removing phosphorus from laundry detergent. My hope is that this legislation will become a model for consensus building that pushes our state to the forefront of environmental protection.