During pandemic spike, state needs to bar Enbridge Line 3 construction and its influx of out-of-state workers

PUC to hear Red Lake, White Earth requests for pipeline delay on Friday

Native Nations, environmental groups, file suit today to block MPCA’s Line 3 permit

Native Americans are bearing a disproportionate burden of the coronavirus pandemic and getting inadequate government support.

It’s true nationally and in Minnesota. Here, Gov. Tim Walz’ administration has put Indigenous lives at risk by failing to delay Enbridge Line 3 construction and the pandemic risks it entails.

Continue reading

The Walz administration is hypocritical in approving Enbridge Line 3

More than half of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA’s) Environmental Justice Advisory Group resigned today over the agency’s decision to approve a key permit for the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan is distancing herself from Gov. Tim Walz’s support for the project.

The state’s decision to approve Line 3 has polluted the legacy of both Gov. Walz and the MPCA, and shines a spotlight on their hypocrisy.

Continue reading

Construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline could start next week — Call Gov. Walz!

Construction on the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline could start as early as next week. It’s a project that threatens clean water, climate, and treaty rights. It makes no sense given the oil market is floundering and the project unneeded.

Our political leaders and regulatory institutions have failed us.

It’s time once again to put pressure on Gov. Tim Walz.

Continue reading

State’s new ‘Water Plan’ looks good on paper, critics say it lacks accountability

And what about the ‘Winters Doctrine’?

Members of the public hope and expect that when they take time to attend public hearings to testify on policies that affect their lives, such as protecting clean water, their questions will get answered and their comments will make a difference.

Yet too often it feels like a futile exercise. People get two or three minutes to speak. There’s no give and take. Leaders don’t answer the tough questions speakers pose. The committee chair will simply say, “thank you, next speaker.”

Such was the case at the Sept. 9 meeting of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB), where a group of citizens asked really good questions about the 2020 Water Plan and were treated as an annoyance. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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