Nearly 50 Iron Range leaders recently gathered to receive updates on the status of Minnesota’s water quality standard to protect wild rice. As part of the East Range Community Advisory Panel’s regular meeting on January 14, presenters gave an overview of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) rulemaking timeline, as well as a summary of recent research that found that sulfate and sulfide are not toxic at levels that typically exist in Minnesota’s wild rice waters. Meeting attendees included representatives from Congressman Rick Nolan’s office, several state legislators, Saint Louis County commissioners, elected officials from eight Iron Range cities, the IRRRB, and other community leaders including USW’s John Rebrovich, co-chair of the Iron Ore Alliance.
Minnesota is the only state with a rule limiting how much sulfate can be discharged into wild rice waters. This 42-year-old standard (10 milligrams per liter) is not consistently enforced and there has been significant discussion on whether the standard is scientifically supported. The MPCA intends to move ahead with rulemaking regarding the wild rice sulfate standard to reflect the most up-to-date science and to identify wild rice waters.
Click below to review the PowerPoint presentations that were provided at the January 14 meeting.
Public comments accepted by December 18
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is considering amendments to the state’s water quality sulfate standard to protect wild rice.
Minnesota has a 42-year-old rule limiting how much sulfate can be discharged into wild rice waters. The current standard of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) is not consistently enforced, and there has been significant discussion on whether the standard is scientifically supported. Minnesota is the only state with a wild rice sulfate standard.
Based on recent research, the MPCA has concluded that sulfate is not directly toxic to wild rice but that elevated sulfide can be toxic to wild rice. Under certain conditions, sulfate can be converted to sulfide in the sediment where wild rice grows. To replace the current 10 mg/L sulfate standard, the MPCA proposes a standard that takes into account the sulfide-producing characteristics of a water body and its sediment to calculate a “Protective Sulfate Concentration” to protect wild rice.
A key to the new standard is defining the toxicity of sulfide to wild rice. The MPCA funded research by University of Minnesota-Duluth Biologist Dr. John Pastor to address that issue. A peer review panel convened by the MPCA made seven specific recommendations to improve the accuracy of the results.
Responding to the peer review panel recommendations, a 2015 study was conducted by Fort Environmental Laboratories, a nationally renowned environmental toxicology laboratory. The study followed all seven peer review panel recommendations and is being submitted to a peer reviewed journal for publication.
The study concluded that sulfide is significantly less toxic to wild rice than was indicated by Dr. Pastor’s tests, and not toxic at levels that typically exist in Minnesota wild rice waters. The study also confirmed that the presence of iron in the sediment where wild rice grows significantly reduces the toxicity of sulfide.
This new scientific evidence confirms that Minnesota’s current wild rice sulfate standard of 10 mg/L is wrong. The ramifications of enforcing an incorrect water quality standard are enormous and would negatively impact communities throughout our state.
The MPCA is accepting public comments on the wild rice sulfate standard until December 18. Share your thoughts with the MPCA through our action center.
The Iron Ore Alliance is grateful for the leadership of U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith, and U.S. Representative Rick Nolan, who met last week with top administration officials at the White House in an effort to determine what immediate steps can be taken to stop mining and steel industry job losses stemming from declining iron ore prices and unfair dumping of foreign steel. These state leaders understand the importance of Minnesota’s taconite industry. Below are quotes from a press release issued last week by the Minnesota congressional delegation.
Senator Klobuchar: “Minnesota’s steelworkers can compete with anybody in the world when it comes to providing quality steel – but they need a level playing field. Today’s meeting focused on the need to stand up for the workers who help drive our economy forward by making it easier to crack down on illegal trade practices, and we will continue working to keep the Range strong.”
Senator Franken: Today, we pressed the White House and top U.S. trade and economic officials to understand what families and workers in Keewatin are going through, and to not only step up and help reverse the job losses that are happening in Minnesota, but to also let overseas competitors know that they can no longer unfairly dump their steel. Our steel industry needs a level playing field now.”
Lieutenant Governor Smith: “Minnesota produces 70 percent of the iron ore consumed in the United States at some of the best prices. We can compete with anyone in the world if we have fair play.”
Representative Rick Nolan: “Thousands of good paying mining jobs across the nation – including more than 450 on Minnesota’s Iron Range – are in jeopardy due to millions of tons of low-grade, foreign government-subsidized steel from Asia being dumped into the U.S. marketplace. Our message to the Administration is that now is the time to act before our domestic steel industry is lost entirely in a race to the bottom that’s jeopardizing jobs, our economy and our national security.”
Last Thursday, Keetac workers raised more than $1,200 for a local food shelf through its semiannual gate collection, where employees donate money as they enter the workplace. The funds raised for this gate collection were given to Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the food shelf in Nashwauk. In a recent article in the Hibbing Daily Tribune, Dan Pierce, president of United Steelworkers Local 2660, said, “With the recent downturn in the industry and the threats of layoffs here in May, I, as president, was nervous as to how the gate collection would go. After seeing how we did, I just want to say ‘thank you’ to all the people who work at Keetac – hourly and management – for putting aside our concerns to make sure that other people’s concerns are taken care of.” Click here to read the full story.
Minnesota’s iron ore mines contribute millions of dollars annually to Minnesota’s Permanent School Fund, which distributes money to every public school in the state. In 2014, U. S. Steel’s Minnesota Ore Operations contributed more than $37 million in royalty payments to the trust funds. This amounts to 84 percent of the total contributions in 2014.
The Iron Ore Alliance supports proposed legislation that would require publicly funded construction and maintenance projects in Minnesota to give preference to American-manufactured iron, steel, and other manufactured goods. The Iron Range is where the steelmaking process begins, and the region provides high-quality, well-paying jobs to thousands of people. We hope the Minnesota Legislature will support this legislation that is important to the future viability of the taconite mining industry.
The United Way of Northeastern Minnesota presented the “Taconite Challenge Award” to the Minntac mining operation at the nonprofit’s annual campaign celebration dinner last week. The traveling trophy is given annually to the mining facility with the highest employee participation in the United Way’s giving campaign. Minntac, the single largest iron ore pelletizing operation in the United States, is operated by United States Steel Corporation with union members from United Steelworkers Local 1938 and 9115. In 2014, more than 67 percent of Minntac employees participated in the giving program, raising a total of $229,916 for local nonprofits that are dedicated to improving education, helping people achieve financial stability, promoting healthy lives, and strengthening families.
The Iron Ore Alliance is pleased that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is continuing its work to determine an appropriate sulfate level standard based on sound science for each body of water in the state. Minnesota’s sulfate water quality standard is a critical issue for the taconite mining industry and Minnesota is the only state in the nation with such a standard.
As the MPCA announced today, it plans to go through formal rulemaking to change the existing standard later this year. While today was an important step in the process, it is not a comprehensive solution to the sulfate issues. Good, defensible science is still needed.
In a recent interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Governor Dayton stated that the sulfate standard is complex and doesn’t guarantee that wild rice will thrive. He also said that the sulfate standard aimed at protecting wild rice is out of date, and implementing it could be catastrophic for northeastern Minnesota.
The Iron Ore Alliance believes that wild rice can be protected while also allowing for continued operations in Minnesota’s taconite mining industry. We plan to continue working with the MPCA and all interested stakeholders to ensure that the sulfate standard is fairly enforced and based on modern science.
The discussion surrounding Minnesota’s sulfate standard to protect wild rice is extremely important to our industry, but it also has the potential to impact the entire state of Minnesota. This video provides a nine-minute summary of the issue, featuring presentations from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other environmental experts who conducted an independent study of the sulfate standard. The video was produced by the Iron Ore Alliance in cooperation with Minnesota Power and the Iron Mining Association. Its purpose is to share information that was presented at meetings about Minnesota’s water quality standard in October 2014.
MINE, an Iron Range publication dedicated to the mining industry, has won first place in the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in the “Special Sections” category. Launched in 2013, MINE is a collaborative effort of the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune, Grand Rapids Herald-Review, and Chisholm Tribune Press. The Iron Ore Alliance would like to thank and congratulate the staff of MINE for being an important voice for our industry. The sixth issue of MINE will be published in late February.