On Monday, April 30, bipartisan legislation authored by Senator Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids) to revitalize how Minnesota protects its natural wild rice resources passed by a 38-28 vote. The bill, H.F. 3280, would nullify the existing obsolete and unenforced wild rice water quality sulfate standard and allow the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to begin a new rulemaking process to adopt a standard that focuses on the best ways to protect wild rice. Additionally, the legislation would grant the Department of Natural Resources money to protect and restore Minnesota’s current wild rice beds.
“When the MPCA began to unveil its new proposed sulfate standard towards the end of the last year legislators, communities, and businesses from Greater Minnesota knew that it only spelled trouble,” said Sen. Justin Eichorn. “As we started to look at the financial impact we realized that adopting the new rule or reverting to the unenforced standard would result in hundreds of millions in crippling new costs for municipalities and businesses across our region. Even if we were able to forget costs, there was no way to determine the benefit the law which was confirmed when MPCA officials publically admitted that they couldn’t prove if the new standard would help wild rice thrive in our state. That doesn’t make sense, and that’s why we passed this law so that they MPCA go back to the drawing board to develop a solution that works.”
Sen. Eichorn added, “Governor Dayton had it right when he said “If you have an impossibly low standard that doesn’t correlate the problem that you’re trying to solve anyway … you put the whole industry out of business. We don’t even know if it’s going to improve wild rice conditions and it’s going to be catastrophic for life up in northeastern Minnesota.””
The legislation was brought on by the completion of an 8-year effort from the MPCA to adopt a new sulfate standard. That proposal was rejected at first by the Administrative Law Judge overseeing the administrative rulemaking process this past January and then again earlier this month during the MPCA’s appeal. Both judges had expressed concerns about the vagueness of the rule as well as its failure to meet the federal Clean Water Act during their rulings.
Aside from baring the MPCA from repackaging their flawed sulfate standard, Senator Eichorn’s legislation would delete the current rule, which was established in 1973, from Minnesota law. The MPCA had proposed reverting to and enforcing the obsolete standard which would also create hundreds of millions of dollars in unwarranted costs to rural municipal wastewater treatment plants across Minnesota.
Senator Eichorn’s legislation doesn’t wholly take away the MPCA’s authority for developing a new sulfate standard. Instead, H.F 3280 resets the table allowing he MPCA a flexible window to establish a workable standard based on solid and proven science, with a focus on the primary hydrological, biological, and physical risks to wild rice health.
“Throughout this process, this legislation has been branded as an attack on wild rice in the state, nothing could be further from the truth, “Sen. Eichorn continued. “We recognize wild rice’s economic and cultural importance to the state, and I want it to stay in Minnesota for years to come. That’s why we dedicated funding to the DNR to protect and restore wild rice in our state to bridge the gap while we wait for the MPCA figures out how to proceed.”
The legislation also appropriates $500,000 to the Department of Natural Resources to be used for wild rice protection, restoration, and enhancement. Of that amount, the DNR can use $50,000 to prepare a report to determine actions that will preserve Minnesota’s naturally occurring wild rice.