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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.

Boundary Waters Bingo: April 19

Join us Thursday, April 19, 6–9 p.m. at Summit Beer Hall as the Friends teams up with Summit Brewing for a few rounds of Boundary Waters Bingo. Taste a new release from Summit and win Summit and Friends swag — all while noshing on offerings from El Burrito Mercado.

Proceeds from the evening will benefit the Friends.

Special delivery

Aaron Klemz from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy delivers two boxes of petitions from numerous environmental groups to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Aaron Klemz from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy delivers two boxes of petitions from numerous environmental groups to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

On March 6, after a press conference at the Minnesota State Capitol, Aaron Klemz from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA; that’s JT Haines from Duluth for Clean Water at left) delivered a collective 10,000 petition signatures plus comments opposing PolyMet from MCEA, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Duluth for Clean Water, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, Izaak Walton League, League of Women Voters, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Sierra Club North Star Chapter and WaterLegacy to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Thousands of citizens ask DNR to protect water, reject PolyMet draft permit

Senator John Marty speaks at a podium in the capitol press conference room during the petition delivery rally March 6.
Sen. John Marty speaks a the petition delivery rally at the capitol March 6 while Rep. David Bly and MCEA’s Aaron Klemz (in striped tie) look on.

This afternoon conservation, good government and clean-water groups held a press event at the Minnesota State Capitol to mark the final day of public input on the PolyMet draft permit to mine. Speakers at the event included Aaron Klemz from MCEA, Rep. David Bly, Sen. John Marty, Friends board member John Gappa, and JT Heinz from Duluth for Clean Water. They shared their concerns that the draft permit to mine does not protect Minnesota’s water, Minnesota taxpayers and the people who live downstream from PolyMet’s proposed sulfide mine.  

Immediately following the press event, a coalition of nonprofit groups — including Duluth for Clean Water, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, Izaak Walton League, League of Women Voters, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, and WaterLegacy — delivered some 10,000 petition signatures plus comments to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Saint Paul. The petitions urge the DNR to reject PolyMet’s application to mine in Minnesota.

Friends takes two important actions in support of clean water

This afternoon Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness submitted comments supporting the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) proposed moratorium on new mineral leases in the headwaters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), and in a separate move delivered its own comments opposing PolyMet’s draft permit to mine to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The mineral lease withdrawal pertains to more than 234,000 acres near the BWCAW, and the USFS’s moratorium will prevent toxic sulfide mining in the area. “Sulfide mining has never been done in Minnesota, and the industry has a terrible track record of environmental destruction across the United States and around the globe,” says Chris Knopf, executive director of the Friends.

The Friends has long seen the PolyMet sulfide mine as a dire threat to the region, and most recently helped organize the strong pro-clean water showing at a public hearing on February 8 in Duluth. “PolyMet is a clear and present danger to the taxpayers of Minnesota,” explains Knopf. “Under the draft permit, PolyMet has to contribute little cash for the first 10 years of the mine to cover the estimated $1 billion in potential clean-up costs.

“If a clean-up is needed during the first 10 years, without the cash set aside it’s the taxpayers who will pay for this staggering liability,” he adds.

The Friends also will submit additional pro-clean water, PolyMet-related comments from its 3,000-plus members on the March 6 submission deadline.

With more than a quarter million visitors each year, the BWCAW is the most visited wilderness area in the United States, and the Friends has been the leading voice for protecting the pristine area for more than 40 years.

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