Sulfate discussion: Wild rice and iron mining can coexist in Minnesota

  • Article by: CHRIS MASCIANTONIO and JOHN REBROVICH
  • Updated: March 19, 2014 - 6:16 PM

A reasonable, science-based sulfate standard is the key.

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A wild rice harvest in 2006. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is expected to soon recommend a standard for sulfate levels in waters used for production of the grain.

Photo: Jim Mone • Associated Press,

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The United Steelworkers and United States Steel have a long history of working together on issues that affect Minnesota’s cherished lakes and countryside, while keeping in mind the importance of preserving the state’s century-long tradition of iron mining. In recent weeks, Minnesotans have heard about multiyear, state-funded scientific research initiated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the effects of sulfate on wild rice production. The MPCA is soon expected to recommend a standard for sulfate levels in waters used for the production of wild rice.

We support science-based evidence to help Minnesota protect its important natural resource of wild rice. The state-funded research clearly shows that the current wild rice sulfate standard of 10 milligrams per liter — which has never been enforced — is not scientifically supported. This standard was enacted in the 1970s based on observational data from the 1940s. Not only is imposing this 40-year-old standard unnecessary, but it places at risk the future of a healthy taconite mining industry in Minnesota.

Most Minnesotans know United States Steel’s Minnesota ore operations for producing an abundance of the iron ore required by the North American steel industry. We are where steelmaking begins, and we are the reason for the name “Iron Range.” But many aren’t aware of our commitment to meeting high environmental standards at our Minntac and Keetac mines. We do this not just because it makes good business sense, but because our 1,900 employees, their families, and the local businesses that supply services to the mines also want to enjoy the high quality of life of northeastern Minnesota. In the past decade alone, United States Steel has invested more than $125 million in environmental improvements at Minntac and Keetac. We plan to continue these investments and run the operations in a safe, environmentally responsible manner.

We serve as co-chairs of the Iron Ore Alliance, a joint initiative between United States Steel and the United Steelworkers. This type of alliance between business and labor is rare for industrial America. But we join to advance our unified goal to continue to mine, employ and invest in Minnesota. The wrong sulfate standard could put this goal in jeopardy.

It is our hope that we can continue to work with the MPCA, the Minnesota Legislature and other stakeholders to develop a revised wild rice sulfate standard, based on modern science, that will protect an important natural and cultural resource, and allow for continued operations and growth in Minnesota’s iron-mining industry.

 

Chris Masciantonio is general manager for governmental affairs at United States Steel. John Rebrovich is subdistrict director of United Steelworkers District 11. They are co-chairs of the Iron Ore Alliance.

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