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Business North - Around The Region - Duluth & Superior Newspaper
EPA revises position on Mesabi Nugget permit
By ELIZABETH DUNBAR
Minnesota Public Radio
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it's taking back a past decision allowing an iron production facility to exceed water quality standards.
In a notice filed Monday in federal court, EPA officials said they were voluntarily vacating the agency's approval in December 2012 of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's variance for Mesabi Nugget, which produces iron pellets at a plant near Hoyt Lakes. The EPA instead plans to reject the variance, the filing said.
The MPCA had asked EPA officials to make an exception for Mesabi Nugget and allow the company to exceed water quality standards for four pollutants. The EPA approved that variance, but two environmental groups and two tribes said the EPA was wrong to issue the variance and sued the agency.
Although EPA officials admitted in court that they made a mistake, what happens next is unclear. Mesabi Nugget could apply for another variance. Company officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The EPA told MPCA officials in an email that they will receive a disapproval letter from the federal agency. If state officials can adequately address the issues raised in the disapproval letter, the MPCA can resubmit the variance for EPA to review and approve, the email said.
The environmental groups involved in the lawsuit, WaterLegacy and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, applauded the EPA's decision, saying it sets the stage to require Mesabi Nugget to meet Minnesota water quality standards.
"We hope to be able to work with the EPA to ensure that mining facilities throughout the Lake Superior Basin follow Minnesota's legal rules that protect clean water, wild rice and fish," Paula Maccabee, WaterLegacy's attorney and advocacy director, said in a news release.
"This is a victory for the Clean Water Act," Kathryn Hoffman, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, added in a written statement. "This law works to protect Minnesota's waters only when everyone has to follow the same rules."
Fond du Lac and Grand Portage band leaders said the EPA's decision was important in rebuilding their relationship with federal regulators.
"We are not against mining, and support the jobs mining brings to the Iron Range," Grand Portage Chairman Norman Deschampe said in a written statement. "But industry has to comply with the Clean Water Act and acknowledge our treaty rights."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to take out incorrect information that had been supplied in a news release from the Grand Portage and Fond du Lac bands about the variance including sulfate. The variance included total dissolved solids, of which sulfate would be included, but the water quality standard in question was only for total dissolved solids and not Minnesota's sulfate standard for wild rice.
MPR can be heard at 100.5 FM in Duluth, 89.3 in the Ely area, 89.7 in the Grand Marais area, 107.3 in the Grand Rapids area, 88.3 in International Falls and 92.5 in the Hibbing-Virginia area.Previous Around the Region Articles:
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