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ND among worst for emissions

Terry O'Clair, North Dakota's air quality division director

FARGO -- An environmental advocacy group issued a report Wednesday ranking North Dakota among the nation's "filthy 15" in emissions of toxic pollutants from coal-burning power plants.

Overall, North Dakota was ranked No. 12 in the report by the Environmental Integrity Project. North Dakota ranked No. 3 for arsenic releases and No. 8 for mercury. Minnesota was not among the 15 states highlighted in the report.

"We find that a relatively small handful of power plants around the country are among the most toxic," said Ilan Levin, the Environmental Integrity Project's associate director.

Information for the rankings came from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory, which compiles releases reported last year by the companies.

The official who regulates air quality for the North Dakota Department of Health said North Dakota ranks among the leading coal states, so it follows that it would rank high in toxic emissions.

The American Coal Foundation ranks North Dakota, which produces 30 million tons of coal a year, most of it burned for electricity, No. 12 in coal use.

That was the same ranking in the Environmental Integrity Project's report, said Terry O'Clair, director of North Dakota's air quality division.

Because most of North Dakota's seven coal-fired power plants burn about the same quantity of coal and use similar pollution scrubbers, O'Clair said it was surprising to see wide variations of emissions between the plants.

That could indicate different methods of calculating releases, he said.

Some states have shown significant progress in reducing toxic pollutants from coal power plants, Levin said, while others have shown little improvement.

North Dakota was among states, for example, that showed comparatively little progress in reducing arsenic, according to the report.

Next week, the EPA is expected to release new standards to regulate pollutants including mercury and hydrochloric acid for power plants.

The release of the ranking of the "filthy 15" report appears to be timed

to prod the EPA into taking action, O'Clair said.

"North Dakota will be taking a look at the rules and we'll likely adopt

them," O'Clair said. "We'll probably adopt it verbatim."

Although he has seen a draft copy of the new rules, O'Clair said he could not predict how much the new toxic pollution standards would cost consumers.

Utilities, O'Clair noted, frequently complain that more stringent pollution controls will add to the cost of electricity.

The state's rule-making process takes about a year to complete.

Springer is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by

Forum Communications Co.