HF 3422 — the “Wild Rice” bill — proposes limiting and even eliminating protections for what some consider to be Minnesota’s most iconic grain.

Although Gov. Dayton vetoed an earlier version of the bill (Thank you, governor!), a revision snuck through the final hours of the legislative session and is now on the governor’s desk (he has two weeks to act on it). Far from being a “peace in the valley” compromise, this revised language does not represent a consensus. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, environmental groups, and several tribal nations remain opposed.

Not only is the new version no better than the vetoed one, it actually calls for allowing the proposed PolyMet and Twin Metals sulfide mines to discharge untreated water that contains sulfates. Not only is this a big give-away to the sulfide mining industry, it is also a clear violation of the Clean Water Act. (Learn more about sulfates and wild rice.)

What can you do to help? Contact Gov. Dayton (call 800-657-3716 or visit his contact page) to thank him for his previous veto of this bill and encourage him to veto this version, too.

Other HF3422 highlights:

  • Prohibiting protection of wild rice growing in most waters in Minnesota until they can be officially listed as a Wild Rice Water. Only 24 waters are currently listed as Wild Rice Waters, though the MPCA, DNR, and tribes have identified 1,300-1,600 such waters that deserve protection from sulfate pollution. Blocking the listing of wild rice waters violates the Clean Water Act.
  • Requiring an exhaustive list of scientific information to be gathered and analyzed for each water body before it can be listed as a Wild Rice Water (thus earning protection under the law), but the bill provides $0 for this work, effectively blocking any progress in gathering and analyzing such information.
  • Prohibiting protection of our existing Wild Rice Waters until “cost-effective treatment technology is available,” and although it requires evaluating new technologies for sulfate control every two years, no money will be appropriated to advance such research.
  • Allowing new industries such as PolyMet, Twin Metals or other sulfide ore mines to add sulfate pollution to our waters without implementing any technologies that require investment to control sulfides. This is a big step backward and a violation of the Clean Water Act. Under current law, future dischargers upstream of Wild Rice Waters would have to control their sulfates.
  • Creating an unbalanced membership in the Wild Rice Work Group that is heavily biased towards industry. Additionally, the work group is encouraged to usurp MPCA’s role, overlook science, and narrow the beneficial uses of wild rice.
  • Not requiring formal consultation with tribal nations, as tribes had requested.
  • Creating endless lack of enforcement, with no sunset or deadline.

Return to the blog …

Friends Executive Director Chris Knopf sent the following message to supporters this morning:

This week the U.S. Department of the Interior, led by Ryan Zinke, reinstated the expired mineral leases of Chilean-owned Twin Metals — an action that opens the door for toxic sulfide mining on public land at the edge of the Boundary Waters.

We will fight this action in court alongside our peer conservation organizations.

For more than 40 years we have stayed true to our mission to protect, preserve and restore the wilderness character of the Boundary Waters — one of our nation’s most pristine areas. Reinstating these leases threatens the outdoor economy of northeastern Minnesota and jeopardizes the opportunity for future generations to paddle, hike, fish, hunt and camp in this remarkable landscape.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Contact Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to voice your disappointment in his reinstatement of the Twin Metals leases: 202.208.7351, exsec@ios.doi.gov
  • Contact senators Amy Klobuchar (202.224.3244) and Tina Smith (202.224.5641) to voice your disappointment in Mr. Zinke’s recent action and ask them to stand strong in protecting the BWCAW from sulfide mining

Thanks for all you do to protect our country’s most-visited wilderness area.

As we await spring’s overdue arrival, it’s time to start planning your next visit to the Boundary Waters. The Outdoor Adventure Expo is the perfect opportunity to equip and plan for your trip while learning about how best to protect the places you love.

April 27–29
Midwest Mountaineering
and other nearby locations as indicated

Here’s a sampling of the weekend’s informative and inspiring presentations (full schedule here):

Friday, April 27

  • 2–8 p.m. Beer! and Gear! Social and Raffle (Midwest Mountaineering)

Saturday, April 28

  • 9:15 a.m. The Complete Guide to Winter Camping (UMN Hanson Hall 106)
  • 10:30 a.m. Top-10 Voyageurs National Park Experiences (Midwest Mountaineering)
  • 10:30 a.m. Planning and Packing for a BWCA Canoe Trip (UMN Hanson Hall 108)
  • 1 p.m. Camping with Babies and Toddlers at (UMN Hanson Hall 103)
  • 3:30 p.m. PolyMet Sulfide Mining: Imminent Threat to Minnesota’s Clean Water and Values at (UMN Hanson Hall 107)

Sunday, April 29

  • 10:30 a.m. Top BWCA Sites You Should Visit (UMN Hanson Hall 108)
  • 11:45 a.m. Discover YOUR Quetico Eco-Adventure (Midwest Mountaineering)
  • 11:45 a.m. Catching Canoe-Country Walleyes (UMN Hanson Hall 104)
  • 1 p.m. Equality and Inclusion in Green Spaces (UMN Hanson Hall 104)
  • 1 p.m. Pedal to D.C. with Dave and Amy Freeman (UMN Humphrey Center, Cowles Auditorium)
  • 2:15 p.m. BWCA Wilderness Act: Dispelling the Myths and Legends (UMN Hanson Hall 103)

Be sure to visit the Friends booth to learn what we’re doing to keep the Boundary Waters wild, grab a sticker, and take action.

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.