Dayton vetoes wild rice bill, earning thanks from environmentalists

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By Elizabeth Dunbar/MPR News

Gov. Mark Dayton on May 30th vetoed a bill that would have eliminated Minnesota’s sulfate standard aimed at protecting wild rice.

The Republican-led Legislature, with help from some DFLers, pushed through legislation that would have provided $500,000 for a work group to explore affordable solutions on how to protect wild rice from mining and wastewater discharge high in sulfate. But Dayton objected to provisions that would have prevented the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from taking action on the standard.

Sulfate harms wild rice when, under certain conditions, it converts into toxic sulfide. Minnesota has had a strict limit on sulfate into waters where wild rice grows, but the longstanding rule has rarely been enforced. While environmental groups and tribes have pushed for enforcement of the rule, mining interests and some municipalities have complained it would be too expensive to meet.

Along with the veto, Dayton issued an executive order forming a work group similar to the one set up in the vetoed bill.

“It’s an attempt to take what’s a very controversial issue, one with very entangled, legitimate interests … and find a way to work things out,” Dayton said during a news conference, adding that the group’s makeup would be more inclusive of Native American tribes than the one the Legislature proposed.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a coalition of environmental groups, praised the move.

“We should be continuing an inclusive conversation about how to leverage our resources to protect the future of our wild rice waters. By vetoing this bill, the Governor has ensured that we can continue to have that discussion and work toward a long-term solution,” executive director Steve Morse said in a news release.

Dayton acknowledged that business groups would be disappointed with the veto, but said current law says the longstanding 10 milligrams per liter sulfate standard can’t be enforced until a viable treatment solution is found.

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