Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Why I vetoed the wild rice sulfate standard repeal

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To my fellow Minnesotans:

I recently vetoed a bill that would abruptly withdraw Minnesota from compliance with the 45-year-old federal Clean Water Act, one of the cornerstones of our country’s protection of its natural resources.

Following that federal law, back in 1973, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency set a limit for the amount of sulfate in the state’s waters, in order to protect wild rice, specifically, and water quality, generally. Since then, some studies have found that limit to be too restrictive and excessively costly.

So, in 2011, the Legislature told the MPCA to develop a new rule to limit sulfate concentrations. The draft of that rule provoked widespread opposition. As a result, I instructed the MPCA to withdraw it last month.

However, the bill passed by the Legislature would make a bad situation even worse. It would eliminate the existing sulfate standard and, instead, have no sulfate limit at all. That would take Minnesota backward in our efforts to balance the necessary protections of wild rice with the economic imperatives of jobs. It would almost certainly be challenged in federal court, which would add even more years of costly regulatory uncertainty.

Also making matters worse, some opponents have exaggerated the future effects of any sulfate regulation. People have been persuaded that state government wants to use a new sulfate rule to shut down iron ore mining in northeastern Minnesota.

That is absolutely untrue. Throughout all my years in our state government, I cannot remember any majority of legislators or any Governor, who did not strongly support ferrous mining’s continued success here. Minnesotans, whose jobs and communities are dependent on those mines, should know that their state government is firmly on their side.

That steadfast support is theNumber One certainty upon which our state’s iron ore mining companies can depend.

Equally absurd is the belief that the state would use water quality standards to shut down or make unaffordable communities’ wastewater systems. To the contrary, the state has stated repeatedly that it would use all existing tools within state and federal law to prevent that result. It is true that some places will have to do more to keep their water clean and safe for everyone to drink and use. We want never to become like Flint, Michigan or Love Canal, New York, where officials hid the truth from their citizens until after serious health damage was done.

Everyone on the Range should know: your state government is on your side. It has been for the seven years of my administration, and I can confidently say that it will continue, whoever the next Governor will be. Politicians, who are trying to exploit this issue to fabricate a partisan divide, should be ashamed of themselves. Any employers who are frightening their workers that they will lose their jobs if their companies don’t get their way, should also be ashamed.

It might take a little more time, but we can work this out. In the remaining days of this legislative session, I urge legislators to forge that kind of responsible solution, in a way that protects mining jobs, municipal wastewater, wild rice, and water quality. We all want this state to succeed for everyone. And, if we work together, it will.

Sincerely,

Mark Dayton

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