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Minnesota agency approves U.S. Steel taconite permits despite environmental concerns

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board unanimously approved water quality permits for an expansion of a taconite facility on the Iron Range Tuesday. The permits leave only one more step before the expansion, which will cost about $300 million, create 120 permanent jobs and increase the capacity of the plant, according to Keetac owner, U.S. Steel.

The development has been heralded by both DFL and Republican politicians in Northeast Minnesota.

“I commend U.S. Steel for its commitment to Minnesota communities and the pollution controls that will help keep our environment clean,” Rep. Chip Cravaack said in a statement Tuesday. “Everyone’s number one priority is jobs, and the MPCA decision is encouraging news that assures me we’re on the right track.”

The expansion was also a point of contention, partly because of its proximity to wetlands where people harvest wild rice, which can be affected by the plant’s sulfate runoff. The final Environmental Impact Statement found the expansion could significantly impact other areas like wildlife and wetlands. Environmentalists failed to delay the vote, or to install even stricter conditions, the Associated Press reported.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency officials resisted a push by environmentalists that the agency comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency request that they upload Keetac data to a public database.

But the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency did convene a Wild Rice Standards Advisory Committee made up of representatives of the American Indian community, mining industry and environmental groups.

The permits that were approved Tuesday require U.S. Steel to comply with the state’s sulfate standard by 2019, which currently isn’t enforced. The Associated Press found that the plant already violates the standard. Representatives of U.S. Steel said the company plans to install even cleaner technology.

U.S. Steel still needs to obtain a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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