Environmental groups target North Dakota on air quality

By Stephanie Hemphill

Environmental groups are joining battle with the state of North Dakota and its coal industry over air quality in northern Minnesota and especially in three national treasures: the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, and Isle Royale National Park.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has been pushing coal-fired power plants in North Dakota to install specific pollution control technology, which utilities there say will not work on lignite coal. State officials back the utilities, and the North Dakota House of Representatives has weighed in, passing two bills critical of the EPA.

According to Drew Kerr in Midwest Energy News, “Visibility has been reduced by one-half to two-thirds what it would be under natural conditions at national parks and forests in the western United States because of haze-forming particulate matter such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide…”

Smog also affects human health.

The Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association are buying ads in local newspapers in North Dakota and northern Minnesota, directing readers to a website designed to promote citizen involvement in the fight.

On its website, the Lignite Energy Council asserts that “employment and economic growth are the most important factors relating to length of life.”

Meanwhile, North Dakota’s attorney general is suing Minnesota over Minnesota’s renewable energy standards, saying the rules get in the way of interstate commerce.

  • Coal-fired power plants emit at least 84 different air pollutants determined to be hazardous to human health, according to data from the National Emissions Inventory. Some of these pollutants, such as acid gases, mercury and sulfur dioxide, primarily effect the area near the power plant. Others, such as particulate matter and dioxins can travel across state lines to worsen the air in other communities.

    We know that pollution can harm our lungs, resulting in coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, asthma exacerbations, and increased hospitalization for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There is growing evidence that long-term exposure to particulate pollution may increase the risk of low birth weight and infant mortality, as well as cancer – namely, lung cancer.

    Children are more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of air pollution than adults. Children grow eighty percent of their lung tissue between birth and adolescence. Children also breathe more rapidly, and tend to spend more time outdoors than adults, which exposes them to more pollutants.

    As Minnesota’s aging coal-fired power plants continue to spew these pollutants into the air we all share, we face a choice: invest now in cleaner technology and fuels that reduce emissions and improve health, or cling to a dirty and increasingly expensive 19th century fuel we have to import from other states.

    For the sake of everyone who breathes, let’s make the right choice.

    (the author is the communications director of the American Lung Association in Minnesota)

  • Charles W Taylor

    Coal is ugly. Not only the pollution it produces when it is burned fo energy, but its extraction from the earth is horrible. The ecological damage from coal mining is staggering. The coal companies and their Washington lobbyists exploit the poorer communities of Appalachia. Too much money influencing the people we elected. Same old story. charles