Taconite Mining



MCEA filed suit in May 2013 challenging the DNR's preliminary approval of a major expansion at the U.S. Steel Minntac mine in Mountain Iron, Minnesota. The suit alleges that the expansion should not go forward until the DNR and Minntac have identified solutions to deal with pollution problems at the current facility that have been ongoing for years.  

The proposed mine expansion would allow this mine to continue operation until 2031. But U.S. Steel Minntac has a history of water pollution and permit violations that has gone on for decades without effective oversight from state regulators. MCEA is asking that the DNR identify concrete steps that U.S. Steel can take to address its ongoing pollution problems before it allows the mine to expand.

Sulfate is among the pollutants that U.S. Steel Minntac is known to produce. Sulfate is harmful to wild rice, and the once-abundant wild rice harvests in lakes around the Minntac operation have all but disappeared in recent years. Also, mercury poses a significant public health hazard after it is exposed to sulfates. Lakes and rivers around the Minntac operation are polluted for both sulfates and mercury. Despite over a decade of side agreements with the State of Minnesota to try to improve conditions at the mine, nearby waters are still polluted.

In a disappointing ruling, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that a water permit that had expired long ago -- in 1992! -- was sufficient to protect northern Minnesota's waters from pollution as an iron mine expands.  U.S. Steel's Minntac facility has, over the last 30 years, generated significant water pollution and caused surrounding streams and lakes to exceed water quality standards. When U.S. Steel sought to expand its current mine, MCEA asked DNR to order a full Environmental Impact Statement to study the water pollution problems and identify strategies to eliminate it before the facility was allowed to expand.  DNR refused, and MCEA asked the Court of Appeals to review the decision.  The Court sided with DNR.  Click to read the decision of the Minnesota Court of Appeals

The ability of DNR to effectively regulate the mining industry -- and the court's apparent willingness to rely on the agency -- are concerning, particularly as industry now seeks to bring sulfide mining to northern Minnesota.  As demonstrated elsewhere throughout the country, sulfide mining has the potential for enormous amounts of water pollution.  MCEA will continue its vigilance to protect Minnesota's pristine waters from these impacts. 

Related documents:

Click here to read MCEA's initial comments on Minntac's Permit to Mine Amendment 

Click here to read MCEA's additional comments on Minntac's Permit to Mine Amendment

Click here to read MCEA's comments on Minntac's 401 Certification

MCEA submitted comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on the U.S. Steel-Minntac facility, located near Virginia. U.S. Steel disposes of its byproducts in an 8000-acre area called a tailings basin, which is leaking thousands of gallons per minute to groundwater and nearby lakes and rivers. U.S. Steel is applying for a 404 permit to construct a collection system to collect some of this water, but MCEA believes that there are better solutions for this problematic site. MCEA has asked the Army Corps to consider other, potentially more effective options before U.S. Steel can proceed.

Click here to read MCEA's comments on Minntac's 404 Permit

Essar Steel:

MCEA filed suit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Essar Steel (formerly Minnesota Steel Industries) in September 2007, arguing that the environmental impact statement prepared for the proposed open-pit taconite mine and steel mill near Nashwauk was flawed because it did not look seriously at the project’s global warming implications. MCEA also pointed out that the EIS didn’t consider possible alternatives to reduce the amount of emissions that would be generated by the mine and steel mill.

Itasca District Court Judge Jon Maturi ruled in October that the DNR had “minimally satisfied” the rules in the environmental impact statement it prepared, which disappointed MCEA. Judge Maturi opined that the state’s existing environmental review law isn’t sufficiently developed to consider climate change. In his ruling, he stated that the law “does not seem to be up to the task of analyzing how greenhouse gas emissions from projects like MSI should be accounted for on the local, regional, state, national, and even global scale.” MCEA appealed the decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled against MCEA in September 2009, saying that the DNR had done a sufficient job of analyzing the global warming pollution from the plant. However, MCEA saw the decision as a partial victory because for the first time, a court accepted the idea that Minnesota's environmental review laws extend to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Related Documents:

Read MCEA's complaint against Essar Steel.

Read Judge Maturi's ruling in the case.

Read MCEA's recent comments on the new Environmental Review for Essar Steel.

Learn More:

For more information on Taconite Mining in Minnesota click to visit the DNR's website.

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