MPCA non-enforcement of water-quality regulations on mining industry
Dear Commissioner Aasen and Governor Dayton:
I am writing to ask the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to revise the Keetac Mine and Tailings Basin water pollution permits (NPDES) and to rewrite these permits so that they protect clean water, fish and natural wild rice. I also believe that these permits should be reviewed by the MPCA Citizens’ Board and that the water quality standards set in Minnesota and federal laws must be more rigorously followed.
The Keetac Mine and Tailings Basin permits are the result of a huge expansion in mining and processing at the Keetac taconite mine, including an increase in the size of waste rock stockpiles, tailings basin volume and the use of water for mining activities. The draft permits don't explain how the limits being set will protect water quality from being degraded as a result of the Keetac mining expansion. They also don’t set limits on the total amount of pollutants that will be dumped into Minnesota waters by the Mine or the Tailings Basin.
The draft Keetac Mine and Tailings Basin permits don't set discharge limits for many of the pollutants related to mining, such as mercury, aluminum and manganese. At the same time, the Keetac Air Emissions permit would allow more than 75 additional pounds of mercury per year to be emitted into the air. I am concerned about the public health impacts of increased mercury in Minnesota fish – how does the MPCA propose to ever meet the requirements of fishable waters if polluters like U.S. Steel are allowed to emit more mercury before proving that they have any technology to control this dangerous pollutant?
The draft Keetac Mine and Tailings Basin permits don’t even require U.S. Steel to monitor for manganese, aluminum, hardness or other chemicals that can be harmful to health or to the ecosystem. Information from other mining projects shows that these pollutants can be elevated above water quality standards at taconite tailings basins.
This is also the first time that the State will be setting limits for sulfate that affect wild rice waters since the Legislature’s new bill was passed pertaining to the wild rice standard. It is very troubling, given the history of excessive sulfate pollution from the Keetac Mine and Tailings Basin, that the draft permits do not set any limit on total amount of sulfate that will be discharged to Minnesota waters as the Keetac mine expands. It doesn’t seem that there is any specific plan requiring U.S. Steel to improve collection and treatment of wastewater – just more studies. Keetac is not required to meet sulfate pollution limits until 2019 or 2020, so our waters could be degraded for another eight or nine years under the draft permits.
Please let me know when the MPCA has set a public hearing at the Citizen's Board to listen to public concerns about the Keetac Mine expansion. The Keetac Mine and Tailings Basin permits need to be rewritten in an open process to require the mining company to protect clean water, fish, public health and natural stands of wild rice.
While the company may be in a hurry to receive permits, I count on you to ensure that the public receives permanent adequate protection of our air and water.
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