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Report Finds Air Pollution Harms Minnesota Fish & Wildlife

Thu, Mar 17th, 2011
Posted in State of Minnesota

(Saint Paul) - Local sportsmen called for cleaning up Minnesota's dirty air as the U.S. EPA announces new plans to limit mercury and in response to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The NWF report finds that a number of wildlife species important to hunters and anglers in Minnesota are harmed by toxic air pollution and climate change. The report comes out during the same week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing long-awaited proposed rules to limit mercury, acid rain, and other toxic emissions from power plants. Mercury is one of the most common and toxic power plant emissions in Minnesota and causes a variety of health disorders for fish, mammals, birds, and other species.

Local fish and wildlife species, including our state fish - the walleye, are named in the report for being in harm's way due to a "double whammy" of toxic air pollution and a warming climate. Among the invisible villains to wildlife in Minnesota are mercury, carbon pollution, acid rain, and increased ground level ozone - all of which negatively impact the health and habitat of wildlife. The NWF report, Game Changers: Air pollution, a warming climate, and the troubled future for America's hunting and fishing heritage, is available here.

The Minnesota Conservation Federation, National Audubon Society, Fresh Energy, Izaak Walton League, and Minnesota Trout Unlimited are calling for Members of Congress to support the updating of air pollution limits under the Clean Air Act to rein in the ongoing damage to our nation's wildlife and natural heritage. Congress is currently considering several proposals that would severely weaken the Clean Air Act by preventing EPA from updating air pollution standards. Earlier this month, the House passed a "continuing resolution" budget bill that included riders that would kill the EPA's first standards to reduce carbon pollution and eliminate new standards limiting mercury and air toxics from some sources.

"We need a strong Clean Air Act to protect our lakes from toxic mercury, our streams from acid rain, and our forests from tree-killing smog and carbon pollution" said Gary Botzek, Executive Director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation.

J. Drake Hamilton, science policy director at Fresh Energy, highlighted the economic benefits of clean air: "Congress needs to update safeguards in the Clean Air Act, to cut down on the enormous health costs caused by air pollution." She continued, "We urge our elected leaders to stand on the side of Minnesotans who want to continue our state's progress in growing our economy around clean energy sources."

The groups welcomed EPA's announcement proposing rules to reduce mercury from power plants. Mercury is a highly potent neurotoxin that adversely affects the function and development of the central nervous system in both people and wildlife. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to mercury exposure.

"Much of the mercury that is deposited in Minnesota's waters comes from power plants and other sources outside our state. While Minnesota is already requiring mercury reductions from our largest power plants, these nationwide standards are what's really needed to reduce this level of toxic pollution in Minnesota's fish and wildlife," says Nancy Lange, Energy Program Director for the Izaak Walton League of America.

Coal fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury contamination in the U.S, amounting to about 50 percent of emissions affecting humans. The pollution settles on lakes, rivers and forests where it exposes fish and other wildlife. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, more than 95 percent of those Minnesota waters which have been tested for mercury contamination in fish fillets are impaired and subject to the fish consumption advisory. "Every angler who eats fish should be alarmed," said John Lenczewski, Executive Director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited. "What is at stake is our ability to share a meal of fish with our children and grandchildren. Unless the EPA is allowed to enforce the Clean Air Act, our great Minnesota traditions are at risk."

"EPA needs to safeguard our air and water, and Congress needs to let them do their job," said Don Arnosti, Policy Director for Minnesota and the Upper Mississippi Flyway at the National Audubon Society "For the sake of our children and environment, the strong mercury and air toxic limits proposed today must be allowed to go forward."

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