Petition to U.S. EPA to Strip State Authority and Protect Minnesota Water

On July 2, 2015, on behalf of WaterLegacy, I filed a petition under federal Clean Water Act regulations asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to strip the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) authority to regulate mining pollution.

Our WaterLegacy Petition to the EPA reveals that mining companies in Minnesota “are routinely contributing pollutants, including sulfate, bicarbonates, dissolved salts, specific conductivity and metals, such as copper, nickel and mercury to both immediate and downstream receiving waters.”

Despite a State agreement with the EPA in 2013 to reissue up-to-date permits and regulate mining pollution, “MPCA has made virtually no progress in addressing the backlog of out-of-date mining permits,” thus allowing mine pits, waste rock piles and tailings waste facilities to continue polluting Minnesota waters. In addition, mining companies and their lobbyists have exerted “widespread and pervasive” influence on the Minnesota Legislature, which enacted laws in 2015 that interfere with MPCA’s compliance with the Clean Water Act to control sulfate pollution in wild rice waters.


In Northern Minnesota’s Timberjay, Marshall Helmberger wrote,

“The petition, which includes hundreds of pages of exhibits gathered by the organization through public information requests, reveals that mining companies on the Iron Range are routinely exceeding pollution standards for pollutants like sulfates, bicarbonates, dissolved salts, specific conductivity, and metals, such as copper, nickel and mercury to both immediate and downstream receiving waters. It also cites data showing that water bodies, like the St. Louis and Embarrass rivers, have seen significant declines in the numbers and diversity of aquatic organisms, including fish, as a result of mining discharges.” Read full article, “Group asks EPA to regulate state’s mining industry.”

“What Water Legacy’s petition lays bare is a case of the industry setting its own rules, essentially regulating the actions of Minnesota state government, rather than the other way around. Minnesota’s reputation for strong environmental laws is a paper tiger.”Read full article, “Regulating mining.”

Ron Meador, in MinnPost, emphasized the failure of state regulators to follow through on their commitment to eliminate the backlog of expired mining permits:

“What I really wanted to hear was MPCA’s defense, if any, to Maccabee’s claims regarding the backlog of expired permits. . . By April 2013, the agencies had negotiated an agreement that required the MPCA to reduce the permits backlog by 20 percent per year until it was eliminated by July 1, 2018. But based on a public-records check, MPCA has made “virtually no progress” on keeping that commitment.” Read full article, “Citing MPCA weakness, group asks feds to step in on mining’s water pollution.”

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