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Associated Press, Published February 18 2013

MPCA lauds utilities for cutting mercury emissions

MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s coal-fired power plants have cut their mercury emissions in half over the last 15 years, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Monday.

MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine praised the state’s utility companies for their cooperation, which has put Minnesota three years ahead of its plan to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent. The Legislature set that goal with the Mercury Emissions Reduction Act of 2006.

Emissions are down statewide from about 1,850 pounds per year in the mid-1990s to 870 pounds today. The MPCA expects that to dip as low as 200 pounds per year by 2016. Mercury is a toxin released from utility plants, taconite production and consumer products. It accumulates in fish and is most harmful to children and pregnant women.

Stine and other state and industry officials highlighted the improvements at Xcel Energy Corp.’s Riverside Plant in Minneapolis, one of several that have drastically cut their mercury output.

Xcel and Minnesota Power – two of the state’s largest utilities – have each spent hundreds of millions of dollars to cut emissions of mercury and other pollutants, representatives from the companies said. They spray a special carbon compound into exhaust vents to help filter out mercury. Xcel also converted its Riverside plant and another in St. Paul to run on natural gas rather than burn coal.

MPCA air assessment manager Frank Kohlasch said the two companies have already cut their mercury emissions by about 90 percent.

Despite the progress, the Minnesota Department of Health hasn’t measured a significant decrease of mercury levels in fish.

Much of the problem may be out of the state’s control. About 90 percent of the mercury in Minnesota comes from outside the state, MPCA said.