Tuesday, May 5, 2009 | 2:31 p.m.
WASHINGTON -- The state of Nevada’s attempt to block new federal regulations on mercury emissions from gold mining suffered a setback recently after a federal judge denied the state’s motion to intervene in a long-running lawsuit.
The state attorney general’s office argued that federal regulation would interfere with the state’s own program to curtail airborne mercury emissions.
Nevada’s gold mines have been one of the largest sources of mercury emissions in the West. Neighboring states suspect mercury from the mines may be contaminating fish and fowl. Consumption of mercury can lead to brain health problems, particularly for pregnant women and children.
Nevada environmental officials initiated an emissions reduction program to clean up the industry and some mining companies have voluntarily taken steps to reduce airborne pollutants.
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected by August to release its plan for a federal standard for mercury emissions from gold mines. A court order last fall in a long-running clean air lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club against the EPA requires the agency to consider regulations on gold mines – a first for the industry.
Nevada’s attorney general sought to intervene in the case in January, saying the federal program would interfere with the state program, as well as the state’s sovereignty. The Nevada Mining Association has vowed to fight the federal regulations, even as some mining companies are working with the EPA to develop workable standards.
But a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., rejected that argument, partly pointing to the Sierra Club’s assertion that nothing precludes Nevada from continuing its own program.
It is unclear if the state will appeal.