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EPA proposes to cut mercury emissions from Nevada gold mines

April 19, 2010

Salt Lake City (AP)—Federal regulators have announced plans to cut mercury emissions from Nevada gold mines, which have long been suspected of polluting Utah and Idaho waters.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposal announced April 16, 2010, would reduce mercury emissions from gold ore processing and production facilities to 1,390 pounds a year, a 73 percent reduction from 2007 levels.

Most of the nation's 20 such plants are in Nevada, the richest gold mining state in the nation. The facilities are the sixth largest source of mercury air emissions in the country, according to EPA.

The EPA estimates the capital cost of controls at $6.2 million initially and $3.8 million a year.

Some facilities in Nevada already are making significant progress toward the proposed reductions under the state's program, according to EPA.

The state of Nevada began requesting voluntary reductions in 2001 and adopted mandatory controls a few years later at the 15 gold facilities in the state. Emissions have declined from about 11.5 tons in 1999 to 2.5 tons in 2007.

Justin Hayes of the Idaho Conservation League hailed the EPA's move, saying the rules appear stringent and likely to force lower emissions. Hayes' group had threatened to sue the EPA over the issue.

"Utah and Idaho are downwind from these high-mercury sources in Nevada," he said. "This is an important first step toward assuring that Utah children and Idaho children can once again safely eat locally caught fish."

Earthjustice, which also threatened to sue over the gold-plant emissions, said EPA needs to do more such as reducing the plants' cyanide releases.

"That said, (Friday's) action marks an important first step by the federal government to bring these highly dangerous and highly profitable polluters under control," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew.

Nevada ranks fourth in the world in gold production behind South Africa, Australia and China.

EPA will accept public comment on the proposed rule for 30 days.

The proposed rule is available at http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t3/fr_notices/goldminepr.pdf

Interested parties will have 30 days to provide comments after the proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register.

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