State looks for researchers to study effects of sulfate pollution on wild rice

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued a request-for-proposals for scientists to study the effects of sulfate pollution on the state's wild rice.

The state standard on sulfates in wild rice waters has been the subject of debate since the MPCA started trying to get taconite mines to adhere to it a few years ago.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce says the state may be moving too slowly on a major study of the effects of sulfate pollution on wild rice beds.

The current limit of ten parts-per-million was adopted in the early 1970s, based on research done in the early 1940s.

The MPCA is working with industry, tribes, federal researchers, and others to design a study protocol. The agency will hire researchers to conduct the experiments.

Mike Robertson, from the chamber, said the study plan is not yet specific enough. Robertson is part of an advisory group that's helping to design the study protocol. He says mining companies and others may be required to invest in sulfate control equipment under the existing standard, which could change as a result of the study.

"The concern is being required to make significant expenditures when the standard could change," Robertson said. "Having a plan that moves forward at a steady pace with good timelines and good research is essential to reach a conclusion to this process."

The legislature appropriated $1.5 million dollars for the study, which is could take two years, at least.

Existing taconite mines are a source of sulfate, and proposed copper-nickel mines could release even more.

Officials from Polymet — whose environmental review is due next month — say they can meet the current standard.