Environmental group to feds: Take water pollution regulation out of MPCA's hands

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A Duluth-based environmental group thinks the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) just isn't cutting it when it comes to protecting the state's water from mining companies – and they want the feds to intervene.

WaterLegacy filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency for the removal of the MPCA's authority to regulate mining pollution, which the group says has left sulfate, bicarbonates, copper, nickel and mercury in many of Minnesota's waterways.

According to the petition, MPCA has failed to comply with a federal anti-pollution program that empowers states to issue permits to companies – including mining operations – responsible for pipes or man-made ditches that "discharge" into surface waters (like streams and rivers).

The permitting system is aimed at regulating potential "point sources" for pollution and assuring that dangerous chemicals don't reach the state's waters.

But according to WaterLegacy, the MPCA has made "virtually no progress" in addressing a backlog of out-of-date mining permits, leading to discharges that have resulted in the "impairment of fish" and other aquatic life – and possibly sulfate pollution in Minnesota's wild rice waters.

Additionally, the group says, the agency's failure to respond to mining permit and water quality "violations" is not in keeping with the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Other problems in Minnesota's regulatory process

The organization does point out that the state legislature may have played a role in tying the MPCA's hands, as it passed laws that prevented it from enforcing pollution standards in Minnesota's rice waters under the CWA.

Moreover, WaterLegacy claims there is "undue influence of mining interests" in the legislative and regulatory processes.

“In a state where mining special interests can dictate whether they will comply with water quality standards," the group says, “the EPA must step in and withdraw water quality permitting authority to protect beneficial uses of waters of the United States from mining pollution.”

For its part, the MPCA said it needs time to review complaints, while as of last week, the EPA had yet to comment on the petition, the Star Tribune reports.

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