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Stop the attack on Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard

Legislation to completely remove our decades-long state standard to protect wild rice from sulfate pollution is moving quickly through the Minnesota Legislature. A floor vote could happen this week, so act now and contact your elected officials to ask for a NO vote.

Wild rice is Minnesota’s state grain and an important cultural resource for the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people. The need to protect wild rice is real. Science has shown that high sulfate levels from mines, paper mills and wastewater plants can contaminate sediment in wild rice-growing waters, endangering wild rice stands. Under the 1973 Federal Clean Water Act, Minnesota currently has a sulfate pollution standard of 10 parts per million that protects waters where wild rice grows.

A wild rice stand in the North Kawishiwi RiverIndustries that emit high levels of sulfates have driven efforts to repeal the standard. In 2011, claiming that the 10 parts per million sulfate standard was not supported by science, the legislature directed $1.5 million to research the impacts of sulfates on wild rice. With that research now completed, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency — as directed by law — is currently in the process of developing a new sulfate rule.

Rather than wait for the outcome of the science-based process it demanded in 2011, the legislature is instead aiming to remove the existing 10-parts-per-million standard and end the current rule-making process, leaving wild rice waters in our state completely unprotected.

This is the bad legislation that we need to stop now:

  • Senate SF2983 sponsored by Eichorn, Tomassoni, Ingebrigtsen, Utke, and Gazelka
  • House HF3280 sponsored by Lueck, Fabian, Heintzeman, Swedzinski, Layman, Ecklund, Metsa, Sandstede, Poston, and Ward

In addition to removing all protections for wild rice waters in our state, these bills violate the federal Clean Water Act and are certain to trigger litigation. Perhaps even more troubling — especially to water bodies downstream of proposed copper-nickel sulfide mining projects — this legislation would block enforcement of any permits that would require treatment to limit sulfate pollution, including the PolyMet permits.