One Step Forward – Sulfate Standard Applied to Keetac Mine Expansion

Okay, it took 18 years. From 1973, when Minnesota’s sulfate standard of 10 milligrams per liter was adopted in Rules to protect natural stands of wild rice all the way until October 2011, no water pollution permit for a mine had ever required the mine to comply with this sulfate standard.

Last month, for the first time in Minnesota history, as a result of combined efforts of WaterLegacy, other conservation groups, hundreds of citizen comments and the U.S. EPA, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) required U.S. Steel to comply with the wild rice sulfate standard as part of its permit to expand the Keetac mine. See the Star Tribune report on Keetac water pollution permit.

  • Sulfate pollution WILL BE regulated under the wild rice sulfate standard of 10 mg/L, and U.S. Steel’s Keetac mine is no exception.
  • U.S. Steel will be required to return every year to the MPCA Board and publicly report its progress on reducing sulfate pollution to justify the continuation of the permit.

Yes, U.S. Steel still has too long a time for compliance. And yes, there should be tougher limits set for other pollutants in the Keetac wastewater. But, the U.S. EPA helped make the permit enforceable and the MPCA Citizens’ Board required U.S. Steel to come back once a year for an annual check-up on whether they are working to control their pollution, rather than stonewalling. One step forward for the simple proposition that the laws on the books actually apply to mining corporations.

Why, you might ask, has it taken so long to achieve this basic level of enforcement?

Mining corporations are powerful. People who gather rice are not. Fish and waterfowl don’t vote or provide contributions to those who share their views. Water does not protect itself.

So, that is our job.

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