Governor: strict water regulations ‘outdated’

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-Minnesota) PHOTO: Easy Stand, Flickr Creative Commons license

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-MN) PHOTO: Easy Stand, Flickr CC license

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio’s Tom Scheck, Gov. Mark Dayton said that the state’s controversial wild rice sulfate standard might be needlessly strict and could threaten Northern Minnesota’s iron mining industry.

The comments come after a number of bills from House Republicans and the mostly DFL Iron Range legislative delegation seek to strip state regulatory powers and require additional study to enforce the 1973 standard designed to protect wild rice in its native waters, a matter of great importance to Minnesota’s Ojibwa community and clean water advocates.

From Scheck’s must-read-or-hear story:

“Some people will say, ‘you’re going to abandon the standard,'” Dayton said. “But if the standard is obsolete and it’s not validated by current science and information, then to stick with it and close down an industry isn’t really well advised.”   …

… “If you have an impossibly low standard that doesn’t correlate the problem that you’re trying to solve anyway … you put the whole industry out of business,” he said. “We don’t even know if it’s going to improve wild rice conditions and it’s going to be catastrophic for life up in northeastern Minnesota.”

Environmentalists point out that the current wild rice sulfate standard of 10 parts per million was developed after exhaustive study that they say has yet to be refuted by non-industry research. Here’s Kathryn Hoffman of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy in Scheck’s story:

“If the governor is saying that there is some other scientific basis or some other studies that we haven’t seen or these peer reviewers haven’t seen then we’d like to know more about that,” she said. “But we believe that all water quality standards are based on science and they can’t be changed without a scientific basis.”

Dayton’s comments are significant because they now show a clear political pathway for proposals to loosen the clean water rules affecting both iron-mining and non-ferrous mining industries, so long as Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk can clear something out of his DFL caucus. However, there could yet be a non-legislative path forward for the mines, one that might satisfy calls for compromise.

Right now many of the bills on the docket are essentially nullification proposals — attacking the state’s ability to regulate, not just actual regulations. These are dream proposals for the business community, but would also make it difficult to address regulation if pollution worsened. One wonders if some practical negotiation between the MPCA and Environmental Protection Agency could allow a “peace deal” of sorts allowing further study of the wild rice issue without blocking existing mines or the state’s interest in future water quality. That’s my bet, but House Republicans and Range legislators are going to try for the “whole hog” here, and that makes political sense, even if it  proves to be a scientific overcorrection.

Gov. Dayton is in a unique position to be a middle-ground negotiator here, though it’s hard to imagine the environmental lobby having much trust in him (or the leaders in the GOP House or DFL Senate) at this point. Meantime, Northern Minnesota’s iron mining industry girds for a long year of low iron ore prices and potential mine shutdowns. Copper-nickel mining proposals like PolyMet await similar market problems should they receive permits in the upcoming year, something yet to be determined. The business of the mining economy is increasingly conducted on smaller pieces of paper with thinning margins.

UPDATE: The MPCA has announced a 3:30 p.m. news conference to detail its findings about the wild rice standard and detail how it plans to address the controversial standard over the next two years. The Star Tribune has that story.


  1. Makes sense to look at the standard and change it if warranted. Tree Huggers love more studies until it goes against what they want, then it is settled science.

  2. “Tree Huggers” – Labels diminish dialogue. I do hope, Ken, that you find another way.

    It makes sense to perform a review if the reasoning for reviewing the research is sound AND you are willing to accept that things can stay as they are. Industry calling out standards to change that were put in place to guard against the very industry calling for the changes is NOT a legitimate voice to listen to.

    This quote sums up the only logical response: “If … there is some other scientific basis or some other studies that we haven’t seen or these peer reviewers haven’t seen then we’d like to know more about that,” she said. “But we believe that all water quality standards are based on science and they can’t be changed without a scientific basis.”

    Arguing against a statement like this bespeaks of one who doesn’t understand just how science works. We leave this to the environmental scientists to decide. When your car breaks, do you fix it yourself? Toilet? Electronics? Oven? Cell Phone? No, generally we leave it to the experts and trained technicians. Why would the environment be any different?

  3. Can I just throw up now, that this man is tossing good science to shill and pander to outside interests to destroy north eastern MN. A pox upon him.

  4. 1973 science, may be a time for a 2nd look. Remember in 1973 Time magazine wrote an article about global cooling and the new Ice Age. Now we all know the science is settled and it is Global warming or climate change or whatever garbage they are throwing at us. The bottom line is time for a new look.

  5. Dayton has never shown much empathy for environmental concerns, but his statements, if objectively nonsensical, are usually carefully calibrated politically.

    A big problem with Aaron’s post here is it seems to presume that the existing wild rice driven sulfate standard would in fact be harmful to mining interests. This is undemonstrated.

    Must admit, though, that I generally don’t believe anything said by mining industry types and their stooge academics, because they usually seem to be lying.

  6. Shawn I do fix my own truck, toilet (simple fix), and every else I can . I find it interesting that Go Green Gang, no more Tree huggers , beats down everyone that doesn’t fall in line with climate change as living in the past with science. Now with Dayton asking for more information on the 10 sulfide standard from 1973, old science is good science.

  7. Independent says

    I attended a meeting last fall with presentations by the MPCA and Consulting Engineers presenting multiple pier reviewed studies that showed the 10 parts standard is incredibly far off and the science that was used for the 1973 rule was based on studies done in the 1930’s and 1940’s in which a massive number of variables were not considered. For people to say that there are no pier reviewed studies showing the flaws in the 1930’s science used must not be that interested in researching the topic. They are more interested in utilizing this as a tool to derail industries that they have deemed personally undesirable… funny thing is they all need the end products of those industries every day of their lives!

  8. Pastor’s study is not 40 year old science. Some of it is less than three year old science. This is Dayton giving in to a specific interest. Minntac is pushing this because they already had trouble with the Sand River/Twin Lakes/Sandy Lakes. The research was pretty clear on the consequences and Pastor’s response is very clear. The plan is “scientifically indefensible”…the agency was sent back to come up with some way to sell out to the mining industry. Apparently demanding that industry not be subsidized by a public resource (water) or stopping them from destroying a public resource by pollution is now an impediment to progress. Unfortunately, the end will be the same. Whether through cheaper ore (Australia, Brasil), simple material replacement (Graphene, Nanotech) or robotic replacement (within ten years production truck drivers will be replaced by monitored gps units) the employment will shrink. Get a clue…they don’t care about you. You are nothing more than a surplus commodity to them and if they can replace you with a banana eating bonobo, they will. Then they will declare bankruptcy and leave the mess just as they always do. So while you are acting as trained carnival barker for the mining companies, remember they care as much about you and your community as the dried spit that accumulates near your mouth when walking in the desert.

  9. Though the above comment is a lot over-dramatic, it does bring up a good point.

    Things change.

    Mining is changing. As the comment points out – in 10 years, science and technology will evolve and mining may look completely different.

    So why don’t we invest the IRRRB mining money and some of the U of MN research funds into the science and technology of fixing the water issues related to mining? Goodness, if we hired a great team of scientists, engineers, technicians and support people to solve the water/sulfate issues, we’d be doing the following:

    1. Hiring technology and science professionals from the area and other parts of the country.
    2. Hiring people to build and maintain research facilities and support the teams.
    3. Solving water problems instead of everyone fighting about them.
    4. Be ready to implement solutions in our own area.
    5. Be ready to sell ideas and research solutions to other areas of the country and world who also have water/sulfate/other issues.

    Didn’t the University of Minnesota help develop the taconite process? Why can’t they come up with the “save the water” process? As sure as everyone is that mining is going to change with more science and technology, isn’t water science also going to change, evolve, and improve if we invest resources into it?

    • Independent says

      The IRRRB is currently working with multiple groups working on different technology for cost effective water treatment for the mining operations. They are also working with non mining industries like bio-chem company Segetis. They make an easy target but are involved in more than most people realize.

      • These are the types of projects we should know more about and that the IRRRB should up-scale to being a visible, serious economic endeavor here on the Iron Range (buildings, people, technology infrastructure, research and development, business partnerships, support teams). Everyone should be able to agree that investing into research about water treatment would be a good expenditure of some of the mining funds now. This is a water science problem, and it could be realistically solved.

    • Good Point Amy

      • Thanks. I think it’s going to be my new, “how to save the Range” idea. Ha : )

        • Independent says

          I agree and like that Aaron pushes for diversifying our local economy (although I feel mining and it’s continued development is a key component of an all of the above strategy for decades to come). Maybe Aaron can dig deeper into the segetis project and the feeder industries that will also need to be developed to support it. I know just enough to be excited about it.

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