Dayton breaks ranks, vetoes wild rice bill

by Tom Coombe -

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) broke ranks with Iron Range Democrats and vetoed a bill that would have scrapped existing regulations on wild rice waters.
While acknowledging an ongoing controversy and the impact a decades-old wild rice sulfate standard could have on northeastern Minnesota communities and businesses, including the mining industry, dayton said he can’t support measures approved late last month by both the Minnesota House and Senate.
“Previously, I have urged Legislators to find a workable solution to Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standards that would bring communities and businesses throughout Minnesota the regulatory certainty they need,” Dayton said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the bill sent to me, which would abolish any sulfate standard, is an extreme overreach. It would violate the federal Clean Water Act and ensure continued uncertainty from inevitable litigation.”
Legislators, including those from the Range, supported a proposal that would have barred the state from returning to a 1973 law, that has not been enforced, limiting sulfate standards in wild rice waterways.
An array of business leaders and elected officials from the Range had charged that, if enforced, the measures would have curtailed mining and forced municipalities to make expensive upgrades to water treatment systems.
State Rep. Rob Ecklund (D, International Falls) supported the legislation that Dayton vetoed, but in a statement released Wednesday, he blamed Republicans for forcing Dayton’s hand.
“I am very disappointed that Republicans forced a veto on this important issue by prioritizing politics over the people whose livelihoods depend on a responsible solution,” said Ecklund. “Moving forward, we will continue to work with Governor Dayton and his administration, our colleagues in the legislature, and all stakeholders to find a solution that provides more certainty for both Minnesota’s communities and industries.”
Dayton said he prefers that rather than scrapping current regulations, lawmakers “develop a new sulfate standard, one that would protect wild rice and also support jobs and economic development.”
The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, in a statement released Thursday, said that enforcement of current standards “would stagger local city budgets.”
RAMS President and Aurora Mayor Dave Lislegard said Dayton’s veto “leaves everyone wondering where we go from here.”
“Our organization is not here to point the finger and blame any one party for the situation we are faced with,” said Lislegard. “We are here to encourage our legislative leadership of both parties to agree to meet with the governor, MPCA and invested stakeholders to start today on finding a compromise so our tomorrow provides a solution that allows our way of life to continue and wild rice to flourish for generations to come.”