Existing Minnesota Mines
Minntac Water Pollution
U.S. Steel’s Minntac taconite tailings basin has violated Minnesota water quality standards, including the wild rice sulfate standard, since at least 1987. WaterLegacy opposed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) 2014 and 2016 draft permits for Minntac as inadequate to control pollution, particularly sulfate pollution that kills wild rice and increases mercury contamination of fish. Despite our opposition, MPCA issued a weak water pollution permit to U.S. Steel.
WaterLegacy and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa appealed to reverse the permit. On December 9, 2019, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the MPCA lacked justification for failing to set limits on surface pollution. Criticisms of the MPCA permit for failing to control discharged through groundwater are now in front of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Mesabi Nugget Water Pollution
WaterLegacy opposed the issuance of a variance for Mesabi Nugget pollution that would permit the iron nugget facility to violate water quality standards for bicarbonates, hardness, total dissolved solids, and specific conductance and discharge chemicals that are toxic to the aquatic system. WaterLegacy, along with environmental and tribal allies, filed suit in federal district court in June 2013 to overturn a variance from pollution standards granted by the MPCA and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA settled with WaterLegacy and our allies and reversed the Mesabi Nugget variance in July 2014. The plant was idled and there has been no announcement of its reopening.
WaterLegacy Permitting Advocacy
Keetac Water Pollution
In 2011, under pressure to implement Minnesota’s 10 parts per million wild rice sulfate standard, MPCA issued permits for U.S. Steel’s Keetac mine site and tailings basin site that imposed limits on sulfate pollution. But these permits allowed a delay in implementation of these sulfate pollution limits for 9 years. In 2015, before U.S. Steel was required to treat or control sulfate, the Minnesota Legislature passed a session law exempting U.S. Steel from compliance with the Keetac permits.