Litigation to Preserve Minnesota’s Wild Rice Sulfate Standard

WaterLegacy Litigation (2011- 2012) to Defend Minnesota Wild Rice Sulfate Rule in Minnesota State Court

Minnesota Court of Appeals Victory

On December 17, 2012, two years after the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sued to prevent the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) from enforcing the wild rice sulfate standard to protect natural stands of wild rice, the Minnesota Court of Appeals dismissed the Chamber’s claims in their entirety!

The Court of Appeals ruled that the Chamber had brought no case properly before it to challenge the wild rice rule. Read the Court of Appeals Decision Affirming Dismissal of the Lawsuit

WaterLegacy Counsel noted that the Court of Appeals decision was one more victory for the wild rice sulfate standard (Read Duluth News Tribune – Minnesota Appeals Court Backs Wild Rice Standard). Maccabee explained, “Little by little, I think we’re reclaiming the idea that Minnesota can protect wild rice and other natural resources through regulation, and that’s an important thing.” (Read MPR – Minn. Court Affirms Wild Rice Protection)

Minnesota District Court Victory

On May 10, 2012, Ramsey County District Court Judge Margaret M. Marrinan granted motions for summary judgment made by intervenor WaterLegacy and by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and upheld Minnesota’s rule protecting natural stands of wild rice from sulfate pollution in excess of 10 milligrams per liter. The district court denied all claims made by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce in its lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard.

In her decision, Judge Marrinan ruled, “The Wild Rice Rule does not violate due process. It is not unconstitutionally vague, nor is the application of the rule arbitrary and capricious.” The Court noted, “In approving the wild rice standard, the EPA concluded that the standard is consistent with the federal Clean Water Act. Plaintiff’s [Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s] assertion that the wild rice sulfate standard is in any way inconsistent with the Clean Water Act lacks merit.” Judge Marrinan ruled that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Complaint should be dismissed “in its entirety with prejudice and on the merits.”(See Judge Marrinan’s Decision.)

The Chamber appealed the district court’s decision on June 1, 2012. On August 6, 2012, WaterLegacy filed our Appeals Brief asking the Court of Appeals to affirm the district court and uphold the wild rice standard. A quick summary of our argument: The wild rice standard is constitutional; enforcement of the standard is well within the scope of authority of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and, in fact, is among the duties of the MPCA under state and federal clean water laws. The wild rice standard was obviously intended to protect natural stands of wild rice as well as cultivated paddy rice, and the Complaint filed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, representing the mining industry, should be dismissed in its entirety and on the merits.

Mining companies lobbied the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to apply a weaker sulfate standard to their wastewater discharge, rather than the 10 milligrams per liter limit contained in Minnesota rules. The MPCA took the position that, based on the scientific information available to date, the Agency cannot support a sulfate limit other than the 10 milligrams per liter standard currently in law.