Who should set water pollution standards in Minnesota?

“Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials warned Tuesday that a bipartisan push at the Capitol to ease state water pollution standards could lead the federal government to assert control of water rules,” writes MPR News political reporter Tom Scheck.

In a bid to help U.S. Steel’s MinnTac plant in Mountain Iron, some lawmakers say they believe Minnesota’s sulfate standard designed to protect wild rice is too strict. They say mining companies, power companies and wastewater treatment plans would be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to meet the standards.

State Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, wants the MPCA to delay enforcing the standard until a scientific review is complete and the state identifies which lakes and streams grow wild rice.

“The industry and municipalities need predictability,” Melin said at a meeting of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee. “And unfortunately when they don’t even know what’s a wild rice water, it’s really hard for them to plan their treatment facilities.”

Today’s Question: Who should set water pollution standards in Minnesota?

  • Jim G

    Whatever it takes to protect our waterways. If Minnesota’s water quality standards are weakened by industry capturing local range politicians then the EPA should step in to save our nation’s water supplies from sulfate pollution. Worldwide fresh water supplies are increasingly scarce. That local state legislators are attempting to rewrite sulfate standards at the behest of the mining industry shows how easy it is to influence and override the decisions made by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. .

  • Rich in Duluth

    The MPCA should set the standards based on the best scientific evidence available. The standards are set to safeguard our environment. The mining companies have no incentive to protect the environment and will do the least they can do to care for it. This is why the government must step in to minimize the environmental impact of these operations. The costs should be passed on to the mining companies customers, ultimately, to all of us.

  • Keith

    I can’t understand the rational for a cost-benefit analysis when it comes to something as fundamental as drinking water. I want ZERO non-naturally occurring chemicals in my water. I’m thinking that any amount of something like benzene in my water is bad, regardless of what someone says is a “safe” level. If there is a way to prevent this at the source, rather than having to depend upon artificial filtration in my home or buying bottled water, then do it, regulate it, prevent it! The polluters need to ask themselves “would they drink this water’?

  • David P.

    Certainly not politicians.
    Certainly not pollution producing industrialists.
    Certainly not politicians beholden to pollution producing industrialists.

  • Sue de Nim

    Here’s a modest proposal: maybe, instead of directly regulating what polluters are allowed to put in the water, we should just require the execs of those corporations to take their kids swimming downstream from their operations’ outflows. But, that not being a workable solution, environmental regulations should be as insulated from big-money political pressure as possible. Lots of places in the world have mineral resources under the ground. Not so many have such excellent fresh water resources as northeastern Minnesota. Sacrificing the ecosystem to get non-renewable mineral resources is short-sighted.

  • pmaier

    If Minnesota realy wants clean water, it first should demand that EPA implement the CLean Water Act (CWA) as intended, as water quality in states are impacted by that of other states.
    The CWA was intended to set sewage treatment requirement for all states, but when EPA set sewage treatment standards for its NPDES discharge permits, it made an embarrassing mistake. By using tye 5-day value of the BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) test, instead of its full 30-day value, EPA (and thus all states) not only ignored 60% of the oxygen exerting pollution in sewage, but also all the nitrogenous (urine and protein) pollution, while this waste also is a fertilizer for algae.
    All attempts to correct this essential warer pollution test failed, during the past 32 years, because those directly involved were too embarrassed to admit that such a mistake was made and the media unfortunately was not interested or could not believe that such a basic mistake could have been made. This in spite of the facts that we still do not know how sewage is really treated and that multi-million dollare sewage treatment plants are possible designed to treat the wrong waste.
    This pollution, now called nutrient pollution, is mostly blamed on tge runoffs from farms and cities, thereby focussing on phosphorus, while again the essential nitrogenous fertilzers are ignored, while they are the major culprits of excessive algae growth in water, causing the closure of drinking water plants and the dead zones, now not only in the Gulf of Mexico, but in most large open waters.
    Yes EPA screwed up, but States did not do anything to correct the EPA and make sure that their water pollution programs were based on proper testing.

  • Sally

    MPR’s question doesn’t match with the debate at all. Melin’s bill doesn’t call into question WHO should regulate MN waters or “delay the standard,” rather it just says that the MPCA needs to do its homework (identify wild rice waters and establish a new sulfate number) before putting the current sulfate standard in a permit. MPCA’s argument that the EPA will take away its delegated authority is ridiculous. If you follow their logic, the EPA should have taken away MPCA’s delegated authority decades ago because it has NOT been putting the sulfate standard in permits (well, it did put it in one permit, but at a much higher number than the current 10mg/L). But now MPCA says it HAS to put the standard in or EPA will take their authority away. That logic just doesn’t work. The enviros trotted out this old standard (that by the way was based on very shaky science from the 40’s, I believe) in the belief that it will kill the PolyMet project. Well guess what — PolyMet can meet the current standard. Who can’t? Taconite mines, wastewater treatment facilities and many industries. BTW, the DRINKING water standard for sulfate in MN is 250 mg/L.

  • Linda Patterson

    Given the way politicians are funded by industry to get re-elected I would not trust them to work in the interest of the average person. A separate agency should be in charge of following federal and local standard – who can not or more likely should not be influenced by industry. And for once in our lives lets do something that is good for OUR Native Americans.

  • JQP

    Industry needs to start looking at their procedures from zero toxic waste output – in all processes. In this case, if you dig it up… you own the responsibility for the toxic materials – for their life as a hazard to environment and humans. Even if you don’t survive as a business.

    Thus, the Industry as a whole ( MINING ) needs to indemnify any member companies, that may go out of business as a result of major pollution events, and thus cover all costs for future remediation.

    This means industry MUST establish a reserve pool of funds and collect fees from their member companies.

  • Trevor

    The last thing we need is uninformed politicians trying to set pollution standards.

    Only scientists should set science-based standards. The MPCA’s current process already allows for substantial public input and industry comments, and the agency works with permitted industries to make pollution permits fair and affordable. This legislation is a solution in search of a problem.

  • LilAsil

    Whoever has the most scientific research and the least amount of investment in activities (read, mining) that threaten the water’s quality.

  • Pearly


  • Raymond Schmitz

    The opponents of science based decision making are getting sophisticated, no longer the easy to spot objections, but rather more subtle bending of the statutes to just make it much more difficult for an agency to actually do its job.