State officials go back to drawing board on wild rice rule

Wild rice seeds sits on the deck of an airboat.
Wild rice seeds sits on the deck of an airboat awaiting a trip into the St. Louis River Tuesday, September 13, 2016 in Duluth, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2016

State officials say they'll go back to work on applying the science of sulfate and wild rice to water pollution permits.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been working for several years on updating the state's long-standing but rarely enforced sulfate standard for wild rice. Officials came up with a lake-by-lake equation that would determine sulfate limits, which they argued was more precise than the 10 milligrams per liter standard that had been in place since 1978.

An administrative law judge rejected that plan earlier this year, and meanwhile state lawmakers could pass a bill that would nullify the old standard.

On Thursday, MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said the agency is withdrawing the plan.

"Although the science is accurate, when it comes to how best to apply the science and affordably implement the rule, we still have more work to do," he said in a written statement.

The proposed rule had faced criticism from all sides. Business and labor groups in northern Minnesota said it was based on flawed science and could shut down mines and impose multimillion dollar costs on city wastewater treatment plants.

But environmental groups and Native American tribes said the proposed rule wouldn't be protective enough.

Meanwhile, in a separate effort, a bill that would nullify the longstanding rule is now working its way through the state Legislature.

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