MPCA — the state’s leading environmental protection agency — fails to act against mining pollution

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is again in the news for turning a blind eye to ongoing water pollution leaving U.S. Steel’s Minntac Mine in northern Minnesota, according to a report in E&E News. Minntac’s violations “would likely have meant a multimillion-dollar fine for U.S. Steel Corp. … and strict requirements for a cleanup,” the report said.

The EPA is declining such penalties because of MPCA indifference. E&E writes:

Records obtained by E&E News under the Freedom of Information Act indicate Minnesota regulators opposed EPA’s proposed enforcement. …

Leaders of a tribe downstream from Minntac, the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, are angry that the case has gone dark. They’ve tried for decades to fend off pollution to preserve wild rice, a culturally significant staple food that grows in the region’s waters.

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Legislators tell MPCA to reject Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, MN Dept. of Commerce needs to refile Line 3 appeal

File: MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop.

Thirty-four state lawmakers submitted a letter to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Commissioner Laura Bishop Wednesday, urging action to deny the Enbridge the environmental certificate it needs to build the Line 3 pipeline expansion.

Line 3 threatens our state’s clean waters, our climate, and treaty rights, they said.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Commerce faces an Aug. 19 deadline to refile its legal objections to Line 3. Commerce’s independent analysis shows that Enbridge failed to prove this pipeline is needed. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the project over Commerce’s objections. Commerce now needs to take the issue to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Recent news from the Canadian tar sands region strengthens Commerce’s hand. It shows the industry is tanking, meaning there’s even less demand for Enbridge’s new pipeline.

Action by the MPCA and the Department of Commerce could help stop this dangerous project.

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How will the MPCA handle Enbridge Line 3’s water quality certificate? Minntac’s example is alarming

Part IV and last in a series exploring how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Tribes, environmental groups, and concerned citizens won a victory recently, when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) agreed to allow challenges to its proposed approval of the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline.

To proceed with Line 3, Enbridge needs the MPCA to issue the project a water quality certificate. The agency had tentatively given the OK.

Public pressure got the MPCA to reconsider, and it ordered a contested case hearing. Administrative Law Judge James LaFave will handle the proceedings, expected later this summer. The hearings will allow intervenors — White Earth Nation, Red Lake Nation, Honor the Earth, Sierra Club and Friends of the Headwaters — to challenge the facts the MPCA used to reach its decision.

This is a significant win. The MPCA doesn’t seem inclined to use its regulatory authority to protect water quality. One troubling example is the MPCA’s failure in 2014 to use the water quality certificate process to force U.S. Steel to address ongoing pollution problems at its Minntac taconite mine in northern Minnesota.

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State Legislature has passed laws to undermine the MPCA’s ability to enforce water and wild rice protections

Part III of a series exploring how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Minntac viewed from Mountain Iron

Making laws can be messy. We want to believe that the end result is democratic and fair.

In reality, we know that some groups have stronger political connections and more money, and that can influence outcomes. We need to know that we have strong political institutions that can provide balance, making sure sound science is followed, that Native Nations and other communities with less power get heard, and the public interest is best served.

The state of Minnesota in general – and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) in particular – have failed to strike that balance when it comes to regulating U.S. Steel’s Minntac taconite mine, and other mining operations, and the water pollution they generate.

The MPCA has much to answer for regarding its ineffectiveness in regulating Minntac’s mine wastewater, but it’s also important to acknowledge that the legislature and pro-mining lobbying interests have undermined the agency’s ability to take a tough stand in recent years. Continue reading

The MPCA’s stunning ineffectiveness in protecting state waters from mining interests: A timeline of inaction

Part II of a series exploring how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Looking north from Mt. Iron at Minntac.

Water is central to Minnesota’s identity – the Land of 10,000 Lakes. We pride ourselves in clean water and a clean environment, and preserving it for future generations.

We want to believe that rules and laws apply equally. Just because someone has more money or more political clout doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to them.

Yet for decades, U.S. Steel’s Minntac mining operation has violated state water quality rules, notably the “Wild Rice Rule” that limits sulfate pollution to protect wild rice. When wild rice dies, the harm falls hardest on the Ojibwe people for whom it’s a sacred food.

Sandy and Little Sandy lakes, just downstream from Minntac, once had 200 acres of wild rice which are now gone.

It’s the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) job to “to protect and improve the environment and human health.” Yet taking the Minntac taconite mine as a case study, the agency has failed to do its job. Continue reading

Minnesota’s lead environmental protection agency has failed to protect our water and wild rice: A Minntac Case Study

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision could require the MPCA to enforce tougher water quality standards on pollution discharged from U.S. Steel’s Minntac mine

Part I in a series which explores how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has failed for decades to enforce water quality standards against U.S. Steel and its Minntac mine in northern Minnesota.

Wild rice is a sacred food to the Ojibwe and Dakota peoples, holding spiritual and cultural value. For some Anishinaabe in northern Minnesota, it’s also source of income. It’s Minnesota’s state grain and important to the state’s identity.

It’s also very sensitive to water pollution, notably sulfates.

Minnesotans care about clean water. In 1967, the Minnesota Legislature created the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), giving it a “unique challenge and a demanding responsibility: to protect the air, waters and land of our great state.”

In 1973, Minnesota created a rule limiting sulfate pollution in wild rice waters, known as the Wild Rice Rule. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the rule under the federal Clean Water Act.

The problem is, the MPCA has rarely enforced the Wild Rice Rule. The agency first applied it in 1975, regarding wastewater discharge from Minnesota Power’s Clay Boswell coal-fired power plant, court records say. The agency didn’t apply the rule again until 2010, 35 years later. Continue reading

MPCA grants limited contested case hearing on Enbridge Line 3’s water crossing certificate, but ducks tough issues

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) today announced it has agreed to hold a contested case hearing on the water crossing certificate for the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands crude oil pipeline.

Line 3 would cross more than 200 water bodies in northern Minnesota and 79 miles of wetlands. The MPCA’s announcement is a partial win for pipeline opponents, including Native Nations, environmental groups and regular citizens. Yet the MPCA still is failing to live up to its environmental protection mission.

The MPCA had recommended approving Line 3’s water crossing permit. Pipeline opponents will now have the opportunity to appear before an Administrative Law Judge to challenge the MPCA’s case, based on the project’s water and wetland impacts.

Sadly, the MPCA limited the contested case hearing’s scope, leaving key issues off the table. Pipeline opponents will not be allowed to argue against Line 3 based on its climate impacts or future crude oil spills, both powerful reasons to reject the project.

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MPCA offers PR spin about what ‘meaningful’ tribal consultation means in Line 3 review

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) commitment to environmental and racial justice is being tested and it’s not doing that great. It gets an incomplete at best.

At issue is the MPCA’s environmental review of Enbridge’s plans to build a tar sands crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. To proceed, Enbridge needs the MPCA to approve a water crossing (Section 401) certificate. The proposed Line 3 crosses a lot of water — more than 200 streams and other water bodies and 79 miles of wetlands.

Native Nations have offered strong opposition to Line 3 for violating treaty rights and its threats to clean water and wild rice. Both the pipeline’s construction and future spills would endanger northern Minnesota’s environment.

So what were the MPCA’s goals for engaging Tribal communities in this important decision, and how well did it meet them?

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In another sign of ‘corporate capture,’ MPCA posts video promoting Enbridge Line 3

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has posted a video on its website which can only be called a PR win for the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline, reassuring the public that everything’s going to be OK.

The MPCA’s mission statement is supposed to be “to protect and improve the environment and human health.” The MPCA has lost its way. Somehow it has come to believe that Enbridge, a Canadian corporation, is its main customer. Enbridge is not its main customer. It’s customers are the citizens of Minnesota and the environment that MPCA is charged with protecting.

The MPCA’s video is an example of “corporate capture,” a term used to describe how economic elites undermine human rights and the environment “by exerting undue influence over domestic and international decision-makers and public institutions.” Continue reading

Make your voice heard against Enbridge Line 3, oppose the MPCA’s proposed permit

Current Line 3 route (organge) and proposed route (green).

The proposed Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline route through northern Minnesota would cross more than 200 streams and other water bodies and 79 miles of wetlands. These are some of Minnesota’s cleanest waters.

You now have the several opportunities to speak out against Line 3’s risks to Minnesota’s waters, environment, and Ojibwe peoples.

For the project to move forward, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) needs to approve a water crossing permit, technically called a Section 401 Permit, a requirement of the federal Clean Water Act.

The MPCA issued a draft permit. which is now open for public comment through April 3. For more information, check out the MPCA’s page on the Section 401 Permit. Click here to go directly to the public comment page.

If you want to be heard in person, there will be two public hearings, one Tuesday March 17 in Bemidji and another Wednesday, March 18 in Grand Rapids. MN350 has organized buses from the Twin Cities for both events. Both will return to the Twin Cities on the same day. The cost is $40 if you can afford it, otherwise it’s pay what you can. Click on the link for details. Continue reading