Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Dayton vetoes bill to gut wild rice protections

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 5/9/18

REGIONAL— Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed a bill, backed by Iron Range legislators, that would have repealed the state’s sulfate limit designed to protect wild rice.

In a letter to legislative …

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Dayton vetoes bill to gut wild rice protections

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REGIONAL— Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed a bill, backed by Iron Range legislators, that would have repealed the state’s sulfate limit designed to protect wild rice.

In a letter to legislative leaders last week, Dayton called for a compromise to resolve the ongoing dispute over the future of the state’s 10 mg/l sulfate discharge standard for wild rice waters.

“The bill as written is an extreme approach that removes important protections for wild rice, conflicts with federal law, and guarantees ongoing litigation,” wrote Gov. Dayton in his May 3 letter.

“The proposed legislation does not ensure economic growth on the Iron Range, as any final resolution should and must. If sent to me without modifications, I will be forced to veto the legislation and Minnesota will be left without a practical solution, which is urgently needed.”

The Legislature declined to take the governor up on his suggestion, and Dayton issued his veto on Wednesday.

Environmentalists lauded the decision, noting that recent state-funded research has reinforced the validity of the state’s sulfate standard, the strictest in the country.

While sulfate is not destructive of wild rice by itself, it is converted in aquatic sediments to sulfide, which is highly toxic to wild rice and many other organisms according to scientific studies.

“Wild rice is a critical resource for all Minnesotans and is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for water quality,” said Kathryn Hoffman, CEO of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. Hoffman took issue with the Legislature, which she said misstated the findings of the state’s own research on the subject.

“Gov. Dayton’s veto gives us another chance to get this right. We now have the science to create effective strategies to protect wild rice from sulfate pollution,” Hoffman added.

Dayton said he “recognizes” that the current standard is not technically or economically feasible for industries or municipalities, and that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s proposed new equation-based standard could not be implemented in a way that provided “clear and reasonable expectations.”

“I ask Legislators, representatives of the mining and labor communities, environmental advocates, and Tribal Leaders to work with Commissioner Stine and his staff to find a workable solution before the end of the legislative session,” said Dayton.

Iron Range lawmakers who backed the measure said they were disappointed in the veto, but blamed GOP leadership in the House and Senate for forcing Dayton’s hand, rather than seeking a compromise.

“Moving forward, we willl continue to work with Gov. Dayton and his administration, our colleagues in the Legislature, and all stakeholders to find a solution that provides more certainty for both Minnesota’s communities and industries,” said Rep. Jason Metsa, of Virginia and Rep. Rob Ecklund, of International Falls, in a joint statement issued in response to the veto.

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