Opposing Legislation to Weaken or Repeal Wild Rice Protection
How has the Minnesota Legislature tried to weaken or repeal the wild rice sulfate standard?
Although the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) adopted Minnesota’s wild rice standard limiting sulfate pollution in wild rice waters to 10 parts per million (mg/L) in 1973, MPCA’s enforcement of this standard was weak and sporadic for decades.
In 2010, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told MPCA that the wild rice sulfate standard must be enforced under the federal Clean Water Act. This occurred as a result of EPA oversight of the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine and the U.S. Steel taconite mine expansion and due to the agency’s consultation with tribes.
Since, then, mining interests and their political supporters have repeatedly lobbied for Minnesota legislation to repeal or substantially weaken protection of wild rice. WaterLegacy has opposed this legislation to repeal or weaken the wild rice sulfate standard and has organized the public to protect the state’s natural stands of wild rice.
What’s the current status of wild rice sulfate standard legislation?
In 2018, the MPCA’s proposed wild rice rule was rejected by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the Chief ALJ. After this decision, the Minnesota Legislature twice tried to enact laws to repeal the wild rice sulfate standard. However, both bills were vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton. No wild rice sulfate standard bills were adopted by the Minnesota Legislature in either 2019 or 2020.
Minnesota’s 1973 wild rice sulfate standard remains in effect and must be enforced under the Clean Water Act. WaterLegacy has argued in the Minnesota courts that sulfate limits based on the wild rice sulfate standard must be imposed by permits and enforced by MPCA.
What’s the history of wild rice sulfate standard legislation?
The Minnesota Legislature then passed a law appropriating $1.5 million for new scientific research and a task force run by the MPCA, anticipating that the rule would be amended to repeal or weaken the wild rice sulfate standard. The law also specified that until the adoption of a rule, MPCA would not require dischargers to spend money to control sulfate pollution, unless spending was required under the Clean Water Act.
WaterLegacy Advocacy Director, Paula Maccabee, testified at the Minnesota Legislature during February 2015 in favor of preserving the wild rice sulfate.
• The first bill, HF 3280, made legislative “findings” regarding the burden on regulated parties of controlling sulfate pollution and provided that the MPCA “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.
Our voices were heard!
Forum News Service quoted WaterLegacy explaining Governor Dayton’s veto:
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.”