Mercury pollution impacts residents

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mercury pollution has become a major problem in Minnesota. Mercury that is given off in power plant emissions ends up in our lakes and rivers where it accumulates in fish and adversely affects the health of the people and wildlife that eating the fish. In February of 2006, Gov. Tim Pawlenty directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to develop legislation regarding the reduction of mercury emissions from Minnesota’s three largest coal-fired power plants. The result was the Minnesota Mercury Emissions Reduction Act of 2006. This act will result in a 90 percent reduction of mercury emissions from Xcel Energy’s Sherco and Allen S. King plants and Minnesota Power’s Clay-Boswell plant by the year 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, estimates that “once the measure is fully implemented, the reduction in emissions from power plants will prevent 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 12,000 emergency department visits and hospital admissions, and 850,000 lost days of work due to illness each year.” They said that the cost of implementing the act would cost up to $10 billion per year, but has also noted that the economic and health benefits (estimated as high as $140 billion by 2016) would greatly outweigh the cost. Also, the increase in monthly residential electricity bills is estimated to be only $0.55 to $1.55 once the act is fully implemented.

As engineering students at the University of St. Thomas we feel a sense of personal responsibility to both our community and environment. We must always keep in mind how we affect other people, the planet, and the economy in everything we do. A part of the Engineering Code of Ethics reads, “Engineers shall at all times to serve the public interest.”

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This is a broad statement that may encompass all levels and practices of engineering but it goes on to say, “Engineers are encouraged to participate in civic affairs; career guidance for youths; and work for the advancement of the safety, health, and well-being of their community.” Engineers should play the role of creating new methods of harnessing energy in an environmentally friendly means. We must look at both how we are currently effecting our environment and what we can do to protect it in the future. Reducing mercury emissions in Minnesota and across the U.S. is just another necessary step toward protecting our environment. The Minnesota Mercury Emissions Reduction Act of 2006 is a healthy, environmentally friendly, and economically conscious decision that will definitely benefit the state of Minnesota. This is only a start, we must continue to progress towards a cleaner environment.


Zach Vaughan

St. Paul