Keetac Water Pollution

U.S. Steel proposes to increase production at its Keetac taconite plant by 60 percent. The expansion will increase water discharge rates. Increased mining depth and extent will require higher dewatering rates in the future which will result in higher discharge rates from the tailings basin system. Chemical usage associated with taconite processing will increase due to the increased production.

Information on the Keetac Expansion is available in the Final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement)

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) provided notice on June 27, 2011 that permits would be issued for both the Keetac mine and plant area and the Keetac tailings basin.

WaterLegacy’s work

As a result of hundreds of citizen comments requesting enforcement of the wild rice sulfate standard and more time to comment, the comment period for the permits was extended a week – until August 19, 2011.

WaterLegacy submitted comments on August 18, 2011, provided additional comments prior to the meeting, worked with U.S. EPA staff and participated in the MPCA Board meeting on October 25, 2011.

  • On October 25, 2011, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approved two water quality permits for the proposed Keetac expansion, one for the Keetac mine and a related one for the tailings basin.
  • The MPCA Citizen’s Board made clear that sulfate pollution WILL BE regulated under the wild rice sulfate standard of 10 mg/L, and Keetac is no exception.
  • Although the time allowed for compliance with the standard is still too long, the steps that must be taken to reduce sulfate pollution are clearer and more enforceable.
  • U.S. Steel will be required to return every year to the Board and publicly report their progress on reducing sulfate pollution to justify the continuation of the permit.
  • U.S. Steel is required to monitor for selenium, a metal that has been toxic to the aquatic ecosystem near other mines.
Although the Keetac permit still has many weaknesses, these real improvements show that state regulators are becoming more accountable to citizens and to the EPA to enforce Clean Water Act standards WaterLegacy is continuing to work with MPCA and U.S. EPA to make sure that data on pollution from the Keetac mine will be readily available to the public on the Internet.
WaterLegacy results
The new water permits for the Keetac Mine and Tailings Basin expansion are the first mining permits in Minnesota to clearly require compliance with Minnesota’s 10 milligrams per liter limit on sulfates that protects natural stands of wild rice.
WaterLegacy filed detailed Comments and Exhibits on the Keetac expansion and an Analysis of Permit Revisions and Comments prior to the MPCA Citizens Board Hearing:

Exhibits 1-10 to WaterLegacy Comments :

Media coverage of the MPCA Citizens Board decision on the Keetac mine expansion permits included an article in the Star Tribune.