Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Governor still weighing veto of new wild rice sulfate legislation

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/23/18

ST. PAUL— Gov. Mark Dayton has yet to decide whether he’ll veto a last-minute rewrite of legislation that would prevent enforcement of the state’s strict sulfate discharge limit for wild rice …

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Governor still weighing veto of new wild rice sulfate legislation

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ST. PAUL— Gov. Mark Dayton has yet to decide whether he’ll veto a last-minute rewrite of legislation that would prevent enforcement of the state’s strict sulfate discharge limit for wild rice waters. The governor had earlier vetoed an outright repeal of the water quality standard, but legislators huddled in the final hours of the session to rewrite the bill in hopes the governor might sign the modified version.

The governor has 14 days after receiving the bill to sign the measure, issue a veto, or let the law take effect without his signature. Dayton spokesperson Matt Swenson said the governor is still reviewing the bill and hadn’t made a determination on what he’ll do with it.

The governor called the previous measure “extreme” and said an outright repeal would invite a federal lawsuit.

The latest version of the bill would establish a wild rice work group made up of a wide range of stakeholders, from tribes to the scientific community to the taconite industry, electrical utilities, and municipal dischargers. The group would be tasked with issuing a report by next January on ways to protect and restore wild rice in the state. At the same time, the bill would prohibit the state’s Pollution Control Agency from enforcing the existing 10 mg/l sulfate standard until a cost-effective treatment technology is available. Determining whether a technology is cost-effective would include an analysis of impacts to ratepayers and profitability, impacts to regional employment, availability of public funding for implementation of new technology, and the effects of disposal and energy costs associated with the treatment.

“This is a responsible path forward for wild rice in Minnesota,” said Kelsey Johnson, president of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota. “It provides an opportunity to answer outstanding concerns about wild rice science while responding to Governor Dayton’s concerns when he vetoed wild rice legislation earlier this session.” Johnson said her group has support from Iron Range local governments, organized labor, businesses, and municipal waste dischargers and she urged the governor to sign the measure. “House File 3422 will create a broad and diverse work group of key Minnesota stakeholders to find science-based solutions and best management practices for wild rice habitat in Minnesota,” Johnson said. “We have heard the governor, and we have improved the legislation as he requested.”

Not so fast, said Paula Maccabee, legal counsel for Duluth-based Water Legacy. “This bill is not a compromise. It’s a way of shutting down enforcement,” Maccabee said. And she questioned the Legislature’s urgency on the issue, which comes just as PolyMet Mining is seeking a wastewater discharge permit from the MPCA. “PolyMet has promised to use reverse osmosis and said it would comply with the current 10 milligram standard, and now there is a big effort to block enforcement.”

PolyMet, in its latest financial and technical report, indicated that it does not believe it will have to comply with the current sulfate standard, which suggests that company officials were aware that a plan was in the works to eliminate, or block enforcement of the sulfate rule.

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