MPCA Proposing to Deny Variance for Minntac

Updated: January 09, 2018 10:49 PM

On the same day a judge is supposed to rule about changes to the state's sulfate standards, the MPCA has come out and said they want to deny a variance for Minntac regarding sulfates. Some reasons, according to the agency, include there is adequate time for the company to comply with the proposed permit, so there's no need for a variance.

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According to the agency, the company requested a water quality permit variance relating to state water quality standards at their tailings basin in Mt. Iron.

Minntac is the largest mine in Minnesota, and is owned by U.S. Steel.

The company and the MPCA have been working for years on this issue. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging they let Minntac pollute for years. They dropped the lawsuit after a draft permit was issued, which laid out plans to reduce sulfate levels.

Then, U.S. Steel took legal action against the MPCA, filing a mandamus claim. It basically asked a judge to require the MPCA to take action on the water issue. 

For Tuesday's news, U.S. Steel sent this statement: "U. S. Steel remains firmly committed to our core value of environmental stewardship, and we've proven that by investing over $100 million in environmental activities at Minntac over the last 10 years. We have been working with MPCA to develop the proper solutions to address water quality standards and we look forward to a resolution that ensures environmental protection and the competitiveness of Minnesota's iron ore mining industy."

Also, the Iron Mining Association sent a statement, saying they are disappointed with the decision. "The MPCA's proposed denial of U.S. Steel's variance application is very concerning because it poses challenges for a larger employer on the Iron Range and raises questions about how the agency will respond to variance applications from other industrial facilities and municipalities in the state," IMA President Kelsey Johnson said.

"The MPCA has continually used the potential for variances to brush away concerns raised by multiple stakeholders," she continued. ""But this proposed denial raises serious concerns that the agency has no intention of granting variances on the wild rice sulfate standard."

Work has been ongoing to revise the state's sulfate standard. Currently, it's 10 parts per million. The agency wants to look at changing it to a sulfide standard. An administrative law judge heard arguments at hearings across the state. A decision was expected on Tuesday.

The MPCA said they will be hosting a hearing on the Minntac permit variance issue, January 23rd, from 4-6pm, at the Mt. Iron Community Center. Written public comments will be accepted at this meeting. All others must be mailed or emailed to: Erik Smith, MPCA 520 Lafayette Road N, St. Paul, MN 55155 or

The public comment period ends on January 24th, and comments must include: a statement of the writer's interest, the action the writer wishes the agency take, and reasons supporting the writer's position.



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