Northern Metal Case Study: The MPCA’s claims to have held the company ‘accountable’ don’t hold up to scrutiny

Third part of a three-part series

Part I and Part II:  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) permitted a giant metal shredder and recycling operation in North Minneapolis in a neighborhood where residents already faced high asthma rates. Northern Metal Recycling began operating in 2009 and initial smokestack tests showed it was violating air quality standards for particle pollution. The MPCA’s solution was to update Northern Metal’s permit in 2012 to allow more air pollution. Independent air testing in 2016 showed air pollution problems were worse than expected, including lead pollution. Community members demanded state action. Still, Northern Metal was able to forestall MPCA’s enforcement action.

Part III: Northern Metal’s is caught doctoring records and faces no serious consequences. It’s eventually forced out of North Minneapolis, nearly a decade after the first air quality violations were reported. The MPCA’s response to Northern Metal is not an outlier. There are other examples where the agency sided with corporate interests over residents’ interests.

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Northern Metal Case Study: MPCA flopped its response to repeat air quality violations in North Minneapolis

Second part of a three-part series

Part I: The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) permitted a giant metal shredder and recycling operation in North Minneapolis in a neighborhood where residents already faced high asthma rates. Northern Metal Recycling began operating in 2009. Initial smokestack tests showed it was violating air quality standards for particle pollution. The MPCA’s solution was to update the permit in 2012 allowing Northern Metal to emit more pollution. When the MPCA installed air quality monitors in the community in 2013-2014, they started recording more air quality violations.

Part II: North Minneapolis’ air quality problems continued. Northern Metal disputed it was the source of the problem. In 2015 an independent consultant conducted air quality tests, expanding the analysis to include other pollutants. It showed air pollution problems were worse than previously understood. Community members demanded state action. Still, Northern Metal was able to forestall enforcement action. It did pay a fine, thought it’s unclear whether the company saved money by polluting and paying fine rather than paying to fix the problem.

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Northern Metal Recycling: Another in the MPCA’s history of ignoring environmental concerns from communities of color

First part of a three-part series.

For a decade, 2009-2019, North Minneapolis’ Hawthorne neighborhood was home to Northern Metal Recycling, a metal shredding operation which added air pollution to an area already beset by polluting industries.

More than 75 percent of Hawthorne residents are Black, Indigenous or other people of color. The neighborhood’s median household income in 2017 was under $30,000. Its zip code had the highest hospitalization rate for asthma of any in the state, the Star Tribune reported that year.

Northern Metal is a case study in the flaws in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) regulatory approach. When the agency approved Northern Metal’s permit, it didn’t adequately consider the cumulative impacts on North Minneapolis nor react in a timely manner when air quality violations occurred.

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Half of Line 3’s ‘Independent Environmental Monitors’ have prior work for Enbridge

There are more than two dozen Independent Environmental Monitors spread out along the 337-mile Enbridge Line 3 pipeline corridor in northern Minnesota. They are supposed to be the eyes and ears for state regulators, making sure Enbridge is following all permits and rules and minimizing environmental damage.

Half of the 25 independent monitors hired to work on behalf of Minnesota state regulatory agencies have worked on Enbridge projects at some time in the past, according to monitor resumes obtained through a public information request.

It raises questions about how “independent” these monitors really are.

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Fond du Lac Band court victory helps all Minnesotans concerned with clean water

The PolyMet ruling forces EPA, MPCA to do their jobs

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa won a big court victory in February in its ongoing effort to stop multinational corporate giant Glencore from building the PolyMet copper mine upstream from its reservation.

The Band has significant and legitimate concerns that the PolyMet mine would worsen an already bad problem of mercury-contaminated fish and water for its community. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knew of the problem and was supposed to notify Fond du Lac so it could participate in the permitting process.

The court ruled the EPA failed to follow the law. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended PolyMet’s permit to fill or dredge a large area of wetlands for its mine. “It also means that five major permits for the $1 billion PolyMet project are now stayed or under review,” the Star Tribune wrote.

“The move spotlights the Band’s groundbreaking effort to assert Indigenous water quality standards as a ‘downstream state’ under the Clean Water Act,” it said.

The court ruling also spotlights lax environmental oversight by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the EPA.

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Ten ways structural racism permeated Enbridge Line 3 decisions, and continues to influence them

Structural racism has played a significant role in Enbridge Line 3’s approval and law enforcement’s responses to water protectors.

Structural racism, as defined by The Aspen Institute Round Table on Societal Change, is:

A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.

Aspen Institute on Societal Change

Here’s a top ten list of structural racism in Line 3 decisions. Got more to add? A critique? Submit them in the comments section, below.

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MinnPost gives Walz administration more credit than its due for environmental justice work

In this blog:

  • MPCA policy promises don’t meet the facts: A critique of stories in MinnPost and Energy News Network
  • Good news, bad news: Line 3 nearly 50 percent complete, will take 2 month hiatus
  • Rise by the River photo
  • New Line 3 Fact Sheets
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MPCA won’t fine Enbridge for wetland damage from sunken equipment

Agency said ‘No outstanding impacts’ occurred

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said it wouldn’t fine Enbridge for a Feb. 6 incident where a piece of heavy construction equipment got almost completely submerged into a sensitive wetland area near LaSalle Creek in Hubbard County. The operator was preparing the site for the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline trench.

Because this was in a permitted work space there was already an expectation of equipment/ground disturbance/temporary impacts (and restoration). The MPCA concluded that there was no violation and will not issue a fine or citation.”

MPCA email

As this blog wrote earlier, this problem seemed avoidable. Friends of the Headwaters had alerted both the MPCA and Enbridge about the unique groundwater upwelling near LaSalle Creek that kept water from freezing in the winter.

It seems odd for an agency whose job it is to protect the environment to dismiss the damage, treating it no differently than the expected damage from normal pipeline construction.

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Court rulings on mining pollution highlight MPCA failings

Minnesotans value our state’s clean waters. As the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it’s core to our identity.

When European settlers started arriving here, the waters were 100 percent pristine. Now 200 years later, most of our lakes and streams are considered impaired to some degree, according the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA’s). Some 65 percent our 27,329 miles of streams are impaired by at least one factor, according to the MPCA’s 2020 report to Congress. Nearly 90 percent of our acreage of lakes are likewise impaired.

The MPCA is supposed to be the state’s leading environmental protection agency, the guardian of our precious clean water.

It is not. Turns out, that award goes to the Minnesota court system.

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