MPCA Needs to Enforce Mercury and Water-Quality Standards
The MPCA Citizens’ Board approved Keetac expansion water quality permits Tuesday, October 25, 2011 that were significantly stronger than the drafts originally proposed. To those who participated, thank you.
- The MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) 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.
- U.S. Steel will be required to return every year to report their progress on reducing sulfate pollution and justify the continuation of the permit.
- Sulfate pollution data will be made available to the public, although it is still unclear how the information will be made public.
On September 13, the Board approved an air pollution permit for the Keetac expansion that increases mercury pollution by up to 75 pounds per year.
The final permit this project would require is a wetlands destruction permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Read about other permits pending.
Longstanding examples of non-enforcement in the mining sector show disturbing pattern
Mining company representatives and state officials have insisted that sulfide mining can be done safely in Minnesota due to the toughness of state standards for sulfates (acid mine drainage), toxic mercury and other pollutants.
The US Environmental Pollution Agency (EPA) delegates the authority to regulate pollution to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). To keep this authority, the MPCA must comply with the federal Clean Water Act, which requires enforcement to prevent violation of water quality standards.
But, what if the MPCA fails to enforce mercury and water quality standards for mining projects? What protection will Minnesota anglers, hunters, residents and natural resources have against sulfide mining?
The more we look, the more concerned we are that the MPCA is not enforcing mercury, sulfate and other water quality standards for ferrous (iron and taconite) and peat mining projects. And decades if pollution have continued to exceed water quality standards at Dunka pit and an INCO bulk sample sites. Thus, we doubt that the state has the capacity or the political will to enforce environmental regulations for proposed new sulfide (copper-nickel) mining.
How permits are supposed to work
A state or federal permit issued by the authorized agency “shields” a company from penalties for operating as prescribed in the permit. Some level of pollution of the “commons” of air, water, and earth has been deemed acceptable in exchange for the availability of modern devices and materials.
But how much pollution is too much for human health and the environment? That limit for individual pollutants is set in rule and law. These standards are mandatory and must be delineated in permits. Otherwise, polluters have no definite constraints on their toxic discharges to our air, water, and land. And the impact on human, animal, and plant life can be devastating.
When permit conditions are clear and specific, the permitting agency can enforce limits by imposing fines and specifying corrective actions. This creates the incentive for profit-oriented businesses to comply with rules and standards that protect the environment.
Current permits aren’t working
WaterLegacy has begun an in-depth analysis of permits and enforcement schedules. We share this information with concerned citizens and our allied environmental and tribal groups, and alert our members to opportunities where they can have a say in the decision-making.
Read more about a summary of proposed permits.