For many Minnesotans, the Boundary Waters, Lake Superior and nearby rivers and streams are a sacred legacy that sustains life itself. - Paula Maccabee
by Paula Maccabee
What is sacred to you? And does Minnesota's failure to control sulfates and other mining pollution damage what you hold most precious?
For the Ojibwe people, natural wild rice (manoomin) is sacred. Wild rice is an integral part of culture, connecting the people and their Creator. For doctors across our state, health in their communities is sacred. For many Minnesotans, the Boundary Waters, Lake Superior and nearby rivers and streams are a sacred legacy that sustains life itself.
Although I'm not Ojibwe, as a daughter, mother and grandmother, wild rice is part of my family's holiday tradition of cooking with love. In addition, as a public-interest lawyer for more than three decades, I hold values sacred: facts matter; a democratic government must represent persons not power; and laws must serve justice.
I've worked for six years with WaterLegacy, an organization that protects clean water and wild rice in Northern Minnesota. I've learned that our state agencies have failed to control sulfates, toxic metals and other pollution from mine pits, mine-waste rock piles and mine-tailings waste.
Mining permits often excuse industries from meeting pollution control standards. Some have outdated controls that are not based on current science. None of Minnesota's mine waste facilities fully comply with the Clean Water Act and pollution control regulations.
Undue mining industry influence prevents the enforcement of Minnesota's legal rule that should protect wild rice from sulfate pollution.
In 2011, the mining industry sued to prevent enforcement of Minnesota's wild rice protection standard, but WaterLegacy intervened in court and the industry lost their case. The mining industry also lobbied for legislation to "study" the standard, hoping to find grounds to weaken it.
On the contrary, the new science supported the existing standard, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) concluded in February 2014 that the 10 milligrams per liter sulfate limit "is needed and reasonable to protect wild rice."
As a result of political pressure from Iron Range legislators, the MPCA's support for the standard was quashed. Mining companies insisted they would not comply with existing sulfate limits. This year, their lobbyists secured passage - in violation of the federal Clean Water Act - of a law prohibiting Minnesota regulators from enforcing the wild rice sulfate standard.
In July, WaterLegacy filed a petition under the Clean Water Act to compel Minnesota to control mining pollution or else lose state authority over water pollution.
The health of our next generations and their fresh waters are precious. Sulfide pollution increases toxic mercury in the food chain, damaging the developing brains of infants and children. It is time for us to join together and fight for wild rice, clean water and the rule of law that protects what we all hold sacred.
Paula Maccabee is a public-interest lawyer who serves as advocacy director and counsel for WaterLegacy, www.waterlegacy.org.