Environmentalists, steelworkers speak on MPCA discharge permit

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IRON RANGE, MN – Environmentalists and steelworkers are speaking out on the approval of a discharge permit for US Steel’s Minntac mine.

The permit allows the mine to operate a disposal system into numerous waterways throughout the Iron Range as long as the discharge is in accordance with the permit requirements.

“What the new permit does is simply sets no standards at all to protect surface water, to protect aquatic life, and to protect wildlife in that surface water,” Paula Maccabee, with WaterLegacy, said.

President of USW Local 1938 John Arbogast says his main concern is that the sulfate and discharge points outlined by the MPCA are not attainable.

“We have a basin sulfate level and a discharge level that aren’t attainable and will cost hundred of millions of dollars that US Steel can’t afford to invest,” Arbogast said.

Which, Arbogast says, has caused a lot of confusion within the steelworker group.

“The whole thing just doesn’t make sense to any of us, and now we have over 1,200 members at Minntac that their livelihood is in jeopardy because of this permit,” Arbogast said.

Environmentalists, like Maccabee, blame the permit heavily on the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency didn’t do its job. The job of the EPA is to protect the clean water act. Prior years — 2014 and 2016 — the EPA did that job. This time around, they were just absent,” Maccabee said.

The permit has both sides wondering how their groups are going to handle the issue moving forward.

“We did not expect that a permit would come out that wouldn’t be protective of surface water, so we’re taking some time now to evaluate what are the options,” Maccabee said.

“I don’t know what the next steps would be for US Steel. I would imagine legal challenges and those type of things,” Arbogast said.

The permit is valid between now and November 30th 2023.

Gamiel Hall

Gamiel Hall

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