Range Leaders Lay Out Case Against Sulfate Standard

October 24, 2017 11:55 PM

They say they are ready to fight for their way of life, again. Range leaders spoke at a rally, ahead of a public rulemaking hearing about the state's sulfate standard. The rally and the hearing took place at Mesabi Range in Virginia.

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Rep. Jason Metsa, a DFL lawmaker from Virginia, said, "It's unfair, and I'm glad we're all here today to push back on that." 

The issue is a bipartisan one, with Republican lawmakers also on board to fight the standard and the proposed changes. Rep. Sandy Layman said, "The problem is they're trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist, and even worse, come up with a solution to it." She said this issue has been simmering for years, even when she was commissioner of the IRRRB.

The mining industry is definitely concerned if new standards or even the current standard is imposed, saying it could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars for an unproven benefit for the wild rice. And they are not the only ones worried. Wastewater treatment facilities could be facing the same hardship, and they are often run by cities.

Rep. Dale Lueck, from Aitkin, added, "We've got small cities discharging from treatment facilities into creeks and streams. And we have some of the most beautiful wild rice you've ever seen down here." Other lawmakers, like Sen. Dave Tomassoni, have said that the DNR said that there was a bumper crop of wild rice this year.

But Native Americans are also fighting to protect their sacred resource. Lisa Ronnquist drove from Duluth. She said, "The rice has changed, and its because the water is poisoned. Rice is part of our lives, and it keeps our families and neighbors fed."

The rulemaking hearing was lead by Administrative Law Judge Laurasue Schlatter. She decided no cameras would be allowed into the proceedings for the course of the hearings. 

About 100 people listened to the people giving testimony. Most of those who spoke oppose the standard. Mining executives, elected leaders, and chamber officials all made comments. Speakers wrapped up around 8pm on Tuesday evening.

The MPCA is proposing to change the sulfate standard to a sulfide standard. They also want to use an equation to determine how many sulfates can be in wild rice waters.

Public comments are being taken until November 22nd. Another public hearing is coming up on Thursday, in Cloquet, at the Fond du Lac Community and Tribal College, from 3-7pm.


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