- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency plans to propose a new approach for protecting waters that grow wild rice.

The new standards would supersede a 1973 state law limiting sulfate discharges into waters that produce wild rice to 10 milligrams per liter, a rule that went largely unenforced until recently. The agency planned to brief reporters on the new approach later Tuesday, spokesman Dave Verhasselt said.

In an interview that aired Tuesday morning on Minnesota Public Radio (https://bit.ly/1GPn8VS ), Gov. Mark Dayton sided with mining companies and Iron Range legislators who say the current standard is out of date and enforcing it could be “catastrophic” for northeastern Minnesota and its mining interests. He said the U.S. steel industry is already struggling against foreign competition, and cited recent layoffs at ore facilities in Minnesota caused by slumping demand.

While the current standard is based on research from the 1940s that suggested that wild rice grows poorly in waters containing high concentrations of sulfates, Dayton said enforcing it wouldn’t guarantee that wild rice will thrive.

“If you have an impossibly low standard that doesn’t correlate the problem that you’re trying to solve anyway … you put the whole industry out of business,” Dayton said. “We don’t even know if it’s going to improve wild rice conditions and it’s going to be catastrophic for life up in northeastern Minnesota.”

Dayton appeared to contradict the approach of MPCA officials who warned lawmakers last month that undermining the standard could prompt the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take control of water quality regulation in Minnesota.

Kathryn Hoffman, of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, pointed out that the MPCA just conducted extensive research that environmental groups say backs up the standard and the earlier research.

“The science is strong and it’s been peer-reviewed by independent scientists,” Hoffman said.

The MPCA is in the process of renewing U.S. Steel’s permit for its Minntac processing plant in Mountain Iron. The company says that complying with the current limit would require hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades.

“We know that the industry just can’t afford to make that sort of investment on the Iron Range,” said Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing. “And obviously there are thousands of jobs depending on the taconite industry in northeastern Minnesota so it’s really important to us that the regulations make sense.”


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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