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Court rejects Minnesota's renewal of US Steel mine permit

Steel News - Published on Thu, 12 Dec 2019

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals has reversed a decision by state regulators to renew a wastewater discharge permit for US Steel's giant Minntac iron ore mine in the northeast of the state and has sent the dispute back to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for further proceedings. The ruling came in a consolidated set of appeals by US Steel, the environmental group WaterLegacy and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

The agency first issued the permit in 1987 and renewed it last year amid a protracted dispute over whether Minntac had to comply with a state law meant to protect wild rice beds by limiting discharges of sulfates. Minntac's ore processing facility in the city of Mountain Iron includes a 13.6 square mile tailings basin that holds mine waste and wastewater that's recycled for further ore processing. As a result, sulfate levels build up in the basin and water from it seeps into local ground and surface waters. Minnesota law restricts discharges of sulfates into waters where wild rice grows to 10 milligrams per liter. But the state for years has allowed Minntac to exceed that standard. The Legislature in 2011 put enforcement of the existing standard on hold and ordered the MPCA to develop new standards. The agency commissioned extensive research and drafted a complex new set of sulfate limits, but an administrative law judge rejected them last year.

US Steel challenged the MPCA's denial of its request for a variance from groundwater quality standards, while WaterLegacy and the tribe argued that the state agency erred in its interpretation of the federal Clean Water Act and drafted permit conditions that didn't sufficiently protect surface waters.

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Posted By : Rabi Wangkhem on Thu, 12 Dec 2019
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