MPCA Needs to Enforce Mercury and Water Quality Standards

Mining company representatives and state officials insist that sulfide mining can be done safely in Minnesota due to the toughness of Minnesota standards for sulfates (acid mine drainage), toxic mercury and other pollutants.

But, what if the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (“MPCA”) fails to enforce mercury and water quality standards for mining projects? What protection will Minnesota anglers, hunters, residents and natural resources have against sulfide mining?

In the last few weeks before the state government shut-down, the MPCA proposed two Draft permits that would expand mining without controlling mercury or following Clean Water Act standards:

  • One draft permit would allow U.S. Steel’s Keetac taconite mine to expand and increase toxic mercury emissions by 75.5 pounds per year.
  • Along with this Keetac permit, the State entered into an agreement with U.S. Steel behind closed doors to remove a requirement that U.S. Steel treat wastewater from its mines to comply with water quality standards.
  • Another draft permit for the Aitkin Agri-Peat facility would allow re-opening of a peat mine without any requirement that the mine comply with mercury water quality standards.
  • The Aitkin Peat Mine previously had mercury standards and violated them. Getting rid of the mercury permit limit is “backsliding” which is supposed to be prohibited under the Clean Water Act.

To add insult to injury, the MPCA public notices and press releases to the public didn’t use the word “mercury,” let alone mention backsliding in permits. How can citizens comment if they don’t even know what the State is proposing?

On behalf of WaterLegacy, I’ve prepared comments protesting the increase in pollution and the practice of undercutting state standards where mining companies are involved.

• Comments opposing the Minntac Air Emissions permit and over 75 pounds of new mercury air pollution per year are attached here. Comment Keetac Air Permit(6-27-11)

• Comments opposing the backsliding to remove a mercury limit from the Aitkin Agri-Peat permit are attached here.Comment Aitkin Agri-Peat (7-6-11)

If we aren’t outraged, we must not be paying attention. As Molly Ivins once put it, “what you need is sustained outrage. . . there’s far too much unthinking respect given to authority.”

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