The Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is emerging as a powerful ally in the years-long fight to get Minnesota to protect wild rice beds from sulfate pollution.
Minnesota tribal and environmental groups have repeatedly pushed the state’s Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to address the issue. Now, the EPA has informed the state agency that it is partially disapproving Minnesota’s most recent Clean Water Act Impaired Waters List because the list doesn’t include any rivers or lakes loaded with sulfate, which kills off wild rice beds over time.
The Impaired Waters List is prepared every two years and requires the state to develop plans to clean up any waters listed.
Mining interests have fought the MPCA on the few occasions when it has tried to enforce a longstanding limit of 10 parts per million of sulfate in wild rice waters. The Legislature passed several laws requiring the agency to study the standard and to refrain from enforcing it until a new standard is made.
Now the federal EPA is telling the state those laws violate the Clean Water Act.
A letter from Rep. Betty McCollum to EPA Administrator Michael Regan may have helped, but officials at the federal agency’s Chicago regional office met last month with Minnesota tribal officials and environmental activists on this and other issues. In a response to McCollum’s letter, Acting Regional Administrator Cheryl Newton said, “EPA is committed to hearing the Tribes’ concerns and considering the information they present in this process.”
The EPA is developing a list of waters it considers overloaded with sulfate, which the state will be required to incorporate into the Minnesota list. A 30-day public comment period will follow release of the EPA list on April 25. The Minnesota DNR and tribal nations have also prepared lists of wild rice waters.