Minnesota: land of 10,000 lakes, wild rice soup and wild rice hot dish. We want our children and grandchildren to know these gifts from nature that make us all Minnesotans.
But at the State Capitol, legislators are considering whether to sell our very identity to the highest bidder. Legislation (HF 3280/SF 2983) likely will be voted on that would gut protections for wild rice, our official state grain. This legislation would end a 40-year-old water pollution standard that protects wild rice and would prevent the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from using new, peer-reviewed science to set any new protective standard.
If this bill passes, Minnesotans lose. We stand on the brink of disregarding science-based standards to protect our water and wild rice for the sake of short-term industry cost savings.
We originally anticipated strong opposition to this legislation from Republicans and DFLers alike. But occasionally, terrible policies sneak past the public when industrial interests cloak their intent. This legislation is one of those terrible policies, disguised under a pro-wild-rice, pro-water rain slicker.
We’ve watched legislators declare the science to be “in dispute,” ignoring testimony of a scientist who conducted several studies on wild rice mandated by the Legislature. We’ve watched a committee chair advance this bill by voice vote, and only then allow a testifier opposed to the bill to speak for two minutes. As American Indian tribes and friends of the environment, we have watched in dismay as this legislation has steamrolled through committees without adequate discussion.
Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard has existed since the 1970s. In 2011, the Legislature required the MPCA to commission new, peer-reviewed science and use it to develop a new standard. The recently completed, peer-reviewed studies support decades-old research showing that sulfates harm wild rice. For the first time, these studies document the exact mechanism by which sulfates kill wild rice. The studies also showed a connection between sulfates and higher levels of toxic mercury in fish, which harm the people who eat them.
The MPCA’s proposed standard was struck down by an administrative law judge last fall. She found that the rule conflicted with existing law because it would allow sulfate levels that would be too high to protect wild rice. Legislators seeking to undermine these protections seized on this ruling to claim it shows that the science is “unsettled.” If anything, it shows the opposite. The science is in, and it shows that sulfates harm wild rice. Rather than follow the science and the ruling of the judge, the bill being considered would dismantle the MPCA’s ability to protect the future of natural wild rice in Minnesota waters.
Wild rice waters in Minnesota cannot go unprotected indefinitely. Sulfate regulations cannot be delayed or weakened. Tribes and environmental advocates might be the most vocal protectors of wild rice, but we know that the great unifier of Minnesotans is our water. Water is who we are.
It is not too late. Minnesotans — lovers of wild rice, lakes and all waters — we must unite to protect our very identity. Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders, we call on you to listen to your constituents and your good instincts. Protect our waters and wild rice for future generations. Defeat the un-Minnesotan HF 3280/SF 2983.
Kevin Dupuis is president of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Kathryn Hoffman is CEO of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. This article is also submitted on behalf of the following organizations: Minnesota Environmental Partnership; Sierra Club North Star Chapter; Save Our Sky Blue Waters; Duluth for Clean Water; Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness; WaterLegacy; North American Water Office; Izaak Walton League, Minnesota Division; MN350.