After 2011, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Minnesota regulators that the wild rice sulfate standard must be enforced under the federal Clean Water Act, the mining industry lobbied for legislation to repeal or substantially weaken the State’s limit on sulfate pollution in wild rice waters.
In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature passed a Session Law allocating money for research and setting up an advisory task force overseen by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in an attempt to create a basis to weaken or repeal Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard.
In 2015 and 2016, the Minnesota Legislature adopted laws preventing enforcement of the wild rice sulfate standard while rulemaking was in progress.
In 2018, after the MPCA had proposed and the Administrative Law Judge had disapproved repeal of the wild rice sulfate rule or adopting the MPCA’s proposed equation, the Minnesota Legislature adopted more extreme session laws repealing the wild rice sulfate rule and blocking sulfate limits on most wild rice waters.
2018 Legislation to Repeal Wild Rice Sulfate Standard Vetoed Twice by Governor Mark Dayton
In 2018, the Minnesota passed two bills that would have repealed Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard and sharply restricted the waters to which any protection from sulfate pollution would apply to protect wild rice.
The first bill, HF 3280/SF2983, included legislative “findings” regarding the burden on regulated parties of controlling sulfate pollution and provided that the Pollution Control Agency “must not apply the water quality standard for sulfate for wild-rice waters nullified in this act.”
The second bill, HF 3422, attempted to restart a wild rice sulfate rulemaking process, while indefinitely precluding the enforcement of Minnesota’s existing wild rice sulfate standard, requirements for sulfate pollution control, or the listing of wild rice impaired waters.
WaterLegacy worked in collaboration with other environmental groups and tribes and engaged thousands of citizens to call the Governor and sign postcards requesting a veto. We presented hundreds of postcards to Governor Dayton’s staff.
Governor Mark Dayton vetoed the Minnesota Legislature bill (HF 3280), that would have nullified Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard.
Governor Dayton also vetoed the bill (HF 3422) that would have indefinitely blocked sulfate water quality treatment or listing and cleanup of wild rice waters that are impaired due to excessive sulfate.
Forum News Service explained the veto of HF 3280:
Dayton said. “Unfortunately, the bill sent to me, which would abolish any sulfate standard, is an extreme overreach. It would violate the federal Clean Water Act and ensure continued uncertainty from inevitable litigation.”
Paula Maccabee, attorney for the group WaterLegacy, said the “veto is a huge victory for clean water! Preserving and implementing Minnesota’s law limiting sulfate pollution in wild rice waters is critical to protect wild rice and clean water and to protect the developing brains of Minnesota fetuses, infants and children.”
Maccabee said the state should focus on developing affordable ways to treat sulfate rather than relaxing laws for polluters saying the state is “counting on Minnesota leaders to make a commitment to require and support modern technology to control sulfate pollution.”
WaterLegacy requested that the Administration develop a program to assist existing taconite mining companies with funding of active sulfate treatment, including reverse osmosis, conditioned on preserving union jobs.
Background – WaterLegacy Has Long Opposed Prior Minnesota Legislation to Weaken Enforcement of Limits on Sulfate Pollution
For years, WaterLegacy has opposed efforts by the Minnesota Legislature to block enforcement of the wild rice standard. WaterLegacy testified that enforcement of Minnesota’s existing wild rice sulfate standard is required by sound science and by the federal Clean Water Act.
View testimony of WaterLegacy’s Advocacy Director/Counsel Paula Maccabee at the Minnesota Legislature opposing legislation to weaken the wild rice standard:
WaterLegacy summarized the grounds for our concerns about the legislative proposal:
First, the scientific evidence gathered as a result of taxpayer-funded research demonstrates clearly that interference with enforcement of the existing Minnesota wild rice sulfate standard would be unreasonable and unscientific. Second, legislation preventing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) from fulfilling its obligations to control sulfate pollution and list wild rice impaired waters would conflict with the Clean Water Act, which is governing federal law. As the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advised in 2011, failure of our State to comply with the Clean Water Act and enforce the wild rice sulfate standard could result in Minnesota’s loss of state authority to control water pollution.
WaterLegacy also testified at the Minnesota Senate Energy and Environment Committee on March 27, 2015. This testimony also emphasized, “Wild rice researchers and independent scientific experts believe the MPCA’s new formula is scientifically indefensible.”
Despite testimony of WaterLegacy and our allies and comments by citizens across the state, in 2015 and 2016 Minnesota session laws included provisions that block enforcement of the wild rice sulfate standard and block listing of wild rice waters until new rules are written.
This legislation, along with the undue influence of mining special interests in the regulation of mining pollution, prompted WaterLegacy to file a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to strip the State of authority to regulate mining pollution under the Clean Water Act.
“Let me be clear, without full consultation and consent with impacted tribal nations, the EPA should not even consider lowering water quality standards for wild rice. EPA should be promulgating a wild rice water quality rule across the Great Lakes basin.”