Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

U.S. Steel, MPCA settle dueling lawsuits

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 2/14/18

REGIONAL— U.S. Steel and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have agreed to settle their ongoing litigation over permitting for the Minntac tailings basin out of court. The two parties reached …

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U.S. Steel, MPCA settle dueling lawsuits

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REGIONAL— U.S. Steel and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have agreed to settle their ongoing litigation over permitting for the Minntac tailings basin out of court. The two parties reached an agreement last month and a Ramsey County judge dismissed the Writ of Mandamus filed by U.S. Steel last year as well as a counterclaim filed by the MPCA in response.

The settlement does not address claims made by three intervening environmental groups, but an attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said that settlement talks with the company are ongoing.

The legal tit-for-tat arose out of a lawsuit originally filed by the MCEA and two other environmental organizations in November 2016 alleging that the MPCA had failed in its obligation to regulate water discharges from Minntac’s 8,000-acre tailings basin located just north of Virginia. The facility continues to operate under a permit that expired a quarter-century ago and environmental groups and tribal authorities have become increasingly concerned about ground and surface water contamination from the basin.

In response to the environmental lawsuit, the MPCA quickly issued a new draft permit for the facility as part of a settlement of the case. U.S. Steel filed suit against the MPCA last February, alleging that the agency had failed to address company requests for some regulatory changes and seeking a court order preventing the state agency from issuing a new permit until agency officials approved the changes U.S. Steel was seeking.

The MPCA responded with a counterclaim that highlighted an ongoing pattern of delay and apparent bad faith by U.S. Steel in its prior dealings with the agency over clean-up efforts at the tailings basin. The court approved the intervention of the three environmental groups in the case last June. The groups were seeking to ensure that their agreement with the MPCA was protected.

The settlement likely isn’t the final word in the matter. The MPCA and U.S. Steel agreed that they will seek to work out their differences through an administrative process rather than the courts, but both parties maintain their rights to seek court intervention if the administrative process fails to resolve outstanding issues. The judge dismissed both lawsuits without prejudice, meaning they can be brought back to court at a future date.

U.S. Steel agreed to reimburse the MPCA for $80,000 in litigation costs under the settlement but did not admit to any violations in doing so.

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