By Jess Petersen
Minnesotans understand that protecting our state’s iconic lakes and rivers is a critical part of preserving the quality of life that we all love about our state. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s political leaders and public agencies haven’t always kept up with the public in this regard. That may be about to change.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued a historic order requiring that the state of Minnesota improve on its efforts to protect water. The federal order is the first of its kind in our state’s history and focuses on wastewater permits. The order, which resulted from a petition by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), requires the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to include numerical limits for pollutants such as phosphorus and nitrogen when writing wastewater discharge permits in order to prevent serious pollution to surrounding lakes and rivers. If the MCPA does not comply with the order, the EPA may take over writing discharge permits for businesses and communities around the state.
While phosphorous is cited as the main focus of the order, there may be major implications for various other forms of pollutants in Minnesota’s water bodies. In a recent interview with the Star Tribune, Kris Sigford, an attorney for MCEA, stated, “Now we’ll have limits that are designed to protect water quality going into permits for all dischargers”. The EPA issued similar orders to pollution agencies in Florida, Iowa, and Illinois, and petitions from citizen groups in nearly a dozen other states are currently pending.
The issuance of this federal order may play a pivotal role in helping to determine how future environmental decisions impacting water play out in our state, such as the proposed sulfide mines in northeastern Minnesota. Waste from sulfite containing materials can lead to a devastating form of water pollution known as acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage has the potential to increase the risk for cancer and various other forms of human illnesses, threaten clean drinking water supplies, destroy fish habitats and food supplies, and poison waterfowl and wildlife who flock to our lakes and rivers. The close proximity of beloved water bodies such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Lake Superior to the PolyMet and Twin Metals mine sites only intensifies the need for proper water pollution regulations.
The EPA’s order has demonstrated that citizens have the power to tell polluters that Minnesotans value the quality of our lakes and rivers. We must be aware of the potential for sulfide discharge from these mines and tell our regulating bodies that we won’t stand for irresponsible practices. Read more about the issue at the Star Tribune’s website and visit the North Star Chapter’s website here to learn how you can make a difference.