Deal reached over Minnesota wild rice sulfate standards

Farm Forum

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Lawmakers have reached a compromise with Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration that would temporarily prevent regulators from forcing mining companies to invest in new treatment technologies to protect wild rice from sulfate discharges.

The compromise will allow water permit renewals for iron mines, including U.S. Steel’s Minntac operation, to go forward without complying with current sulfate limits until new rules are ready from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Rep. Carly Melin told Minnesota Public Radio on May 14 ( ). The MPCA would not force companies or wastewater treatment facilities to spend money to reduce sulfate discharges to qualify for permits in the meantime.

Once the new rules are in place, the compromise would allow the MPCA to reopen those water permits and enforce its new standards.

“All we’re saying is, OK, let’s take a breather over these next couple of years here and operate the same way we’ve operated for the previous 130 years until all the science is in, all the science is complete, all the rules are complete,” said Melin, DFL-Hibbing.

A 1973 law limits sulfate discharges into waters that grow wild rice to 10 milligrams per liter, but the state hasn’t tried to enforce that standard until recently. Responding to objections from mining companies and northern Minnesota lawmakers who say the rule is outdated, the MPCA in March proposed a new approach for sulfate rules, which involves looking at the conditions in individual lakes and rivers where wild rice grows. Those rules are still being developed.

Environmental groups have urged the state to enforce the existing standard in the meantime.