U.S. Steel, state settle dueling lawsuits over Minntac water permit

U.S. Steel's Minntac taconite mine and plant
U.S. Steel's Minntac taconite mine and plant looms over the city of Virginia on April 10, 2015.
Dan Kraker | MPR News 2015

State officials and U.S. Steel have settled their legal dispute — for now — over a water quality permit for a northern Minnesota taconite mine.

Minntac's tailings basin, where mining waste is mixed with water and stored, has been operating under a permit that expired in 1992. Environmentalists had pressured the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to come up with new permits. The agency did so in November 2016, only to end up in court with U.S. Steel.

The two sides reached an agreement in January and will work toward a new draft permit, which could be issued within six months, state officials said.

"Our goal is to focus on compliance and environmental results, and we're glad that we and the company were able to reach an agreement resolving our legal issues to put the company on that path. Updating these permits is important work," MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said in a written statement.

A message left for U.S. Steel seeking comment was not immediately returned.

One of the biggest issues to resolve in the Minntac case is how much sulfate the facility can discharge. Sulfate can be harmful to wild rice, but the MPCA's attempt to come up with new rules for sulfate pollution was rejected by an administrative law judge.

The Minnesota Legislature has also tried to weigh in on the dispute and might try to do so again during the session that begins next week.