The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals challenging the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's permit issued for continued operations of U.S. Steel's Minntac taconite tailings basin in Mountain Iron.
Band officials filed the challenge last week after the agency issued the permit in late November after years of deliberations, delays and lawsuits.
The permit requires Minntac to reduce pollutants over time, including sulfate, but does not require the operations to immediately meet some state standards.
The band's legal challenge notes that the taconite iron ore mining and processing operations are located within the western border of the 1854 Ceded Territory, where the band retains off-reservation treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather, giving Fond du Lac a say in natural resource issues.
"The unlined, 12-square-mile tailings Basin has long been acknowledged by U.S. Steel, the pollution control agency, 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,'' the band said in a statement Tuesday. "Wild rice is of paramount cultural and economic importance to the Ojibwe people."
The band notes that monitoring in wild rice waters near Minntac has shown "extreme exceedances of the state's former sulfate limit for wild rice 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 Kevin R. Dupuis, Sr., Fond du Lac's tribal chairman. "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."
In the appeal Fond du Lac asks the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reject the Minntac permit as drafted and to require the 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 both dam safety and mining permits for the proposed PolyMet copper mine project near Hoyt Lakes.