Are Minnesota’s water pollution standards outdated?

In this Aug. 30, 2006 file photo, Joe Hoagland, left, pushes a canoe through a wild rice bed in White Earth, Minn., as 14-year-old Chris Salazar learns how to harvest the rice by knocking the grain off the stalks with two sticks. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Wednesday, March 12, 2014 that more data analysis must be done to determine whether it will recommend changes to the state’s water quality standards to protect wild rice from sulfates. Jim Mone | AP, file

“Gov. Mark Dayton is siding with U.S. Steel in a battle over water pollution standards for the company’s taconite facility in Mountain Iron,” writes MPR News reporter Tom Scheck.

In an interview with MPR News, Dayton said the existing sulfate standard aimed at protecting wild rice is out of date, and pushing it could be catastrophic for northeastern Minnesota.

As the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency prepares to release new environmental standards, U.S. Steel is lobbying the Legislature to delay the implementation of a clean water standard aimed at protecting water where wild rice grows.

The existing state standard prevents companies from discharging more than 10 milligrams of sulfate per liter of water. But company lobbyists and Iron Range legislators say the standard is too low. With his latest comments, his strongest to date on the long-running debate, Dayton is joining that group.

But is science on his side?

“We don’t agree that it’s out of date,” said Kathryn Hoffman, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “The science has been updated very recently and the science is strong and it’s been peer reviewed by independent scientists.”

She worries that state regulators and the Legislature may be preparing to ease the state’s environmental standards just as the debate over copper-nickel mining in Minnesota is starting to get serious.

Hoffman said she hasn’t seen any science that contradicts the current sulfate standard.

“If the governor is saying that there is some other scientific basis or some other studies that we haven’t seen or these peer reviewers haven’t seen then we’d like to know more about that,” she said. “But we believe that all water quality standards are based on science and they can’t be changed without a scientific basis.”

Today’s Question: Are Minnesota’s water pollution standards outdated?