All across Minnesota we are celebrating the recent win for tribal rights and tribal water quality standards thanks to advocacy of the Fond Du Lac Band. The Band has objected to a federal water permit for the proposed PolyMet sulfide mining project on the grounds that the proposed mine would violate their clean water rights under federal law. On May 3rd, the EPA agreed with them, stating that the “Section 404” wetlands permit previously issued to PolyMet would not protect the Fond du Lac Band’s water, as well as the fish and wild rice that depend on it.
The EPA’s recommendation to not reissue the permit for PolyMet marks the start of public hearings the Army Corps of Engineers is holding in response to the Band’s case. Public hearings on this permit happened May 3rd through 5th and are being followed by a 30-day public comment period. The Sierra Club plans to file written comments in support of the Band and there are options for submitting individual written comments as well.
This is encouraging news for all of us and is the result of the stewardship, scientific work and leadership of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. It is the first time in history that any downstream tribe has exercised Clean Water Act Section 401(a)(2) rights as a “downstream state” to object to a federal permit due to effects on the tribe’s reservation waters – and it is working.