This week, Fresh Energy and five partners settled a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that could lead to big changes at Xcel Energy’s Sherco 1 and 2 coal-burning power plant units in Becker, Minnesota. The decades-old units are the state’s biggest carbon polluters.
According to research by the National Park Service, the Sherco units are releasing massive amounts of air pollution, impairing visibility in Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters.
The lawsuit alleged that the regional haze triggered a duty for the EPA to determine the extent of visibility impairment and what additional pollution controls would be needed at Sherco to eliminate it. This week’s settlement obligates the EPA to take action on the 2009 National Park Service finding that haze from burning coal at Sherco impairs the views at both parks.
“The lawsuit settlement is only one of multiple economic reasons why Xcel should plan to retire these old units and replace them with clean energy,” said Fresh Energy science policy director J. Drake Hamilton.
The EPA must first decide whether the National Park Service was right when it certified that the haze problem in the parks is “reasonably attributable” to pollution from Sherco. If so, the next step is for the EPA to determine what kind of pollution control technology is required. The best technology to reduce the pollution would cost Xcel an estimated $350 million for the two units. Given the large expense, state regulators should focus on retiring and replacing Sherco 1 and 2 with clean energy as a cheaper course of action.