Fond du Lac Band challenges MPCA over failure to enforce water quality standards
Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa last week filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals challenging the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) issuance of a new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System and State Disposal System (NPDES/SDS) permit for the Minntac Tailings Basin. The Tailings Basin is part of a U.S. Steel-owned taconite operation in Mountain Iron, Minnesota. The operation is located within the western border of the 1854 Ceded Territory, where the Band retains off-reservation treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather.
The unlined, 12-square-mile Tailings Basin has long been acknowledged by U.S. Steel, the MPCA, tribal entities and others as a source of pollution in surrounding surface water and groundwater, including wild rice waters in the Dark and Sand River watersheds. Wild rice is of paramount cultural and economic importance to the Ojibwe people.
Since 1973, Minnesota has had a federally approved water-quality standard limiting sulfate to 10 mg/L for wild rice waters to protect the health of the plant. Monitoring in wild rice waters near Minntac has shown extreme exceedances of that limit. Sulfate levels ranging up to 40 times higher than the limit have greatly diminished the rice stands in these waters. Yet, the new permit ignores the 10 mg/L sulfate limit for these waters and does not require sufficient remediation of Minntac’s existing pollution or materially limit future discharges.
“We realize that the mining industry makes an important contribution to our area’s economy and people’s livelihoods,” said Fond du Lac Band Chairman Kevin R. Dupuis, Sr.
“But we think it is only reasonable to expect companies profiting from the extraction of Minnesota’s mineral resources to comply with environmental laws and clean up any environmental damage caused by their operations.”
The Band undertakes this appeal as part of its commitment to preserving and protecting theirreplaceable natural resources of the 1854 Ceded Territory. Also appealing the permit on many of the same grounds is the nonprofit environmental organization, WaterLegacy. The Band in its appeal asks the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reject the Minntac permit as drafted and to require the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to enforce all state water quality standards. For similar reasons, the Band last month appealed the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issuance of insufficient Dam Safety and Mining Permits for the PolyMet Project outside Babbitt, Minnesota.
About the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa:
The Fond du Lac Band is one of six Chippewa Indian member bands that make up the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. The Fond du Lac Reservation was established by the La Pointe Treaty of 1854. Archaeologists, however, maintain that ancestors of the present-day Chippewa (Ojibwe) have resided in the Great Lakes area since 800 A.D. Today, the Band includes over 4,200 members. The Ojibwe name for the Fond du Lac Reservation is "Nagaajiwanaang", which means "where the water stops."