An Iron Range ore operation is at the heart of an environmental lawsuit.
Three Minnesota environmental groups are suing the state regarding what they call a failure to regulate pollution from Minntac.
The Mountain Iron Minntac facility's most recent water discharge permit expired 24 years ago. According to Hudson Kingston, staff attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental advocacy that's a problem.
"The agency wasn't able to do their job and regulate their mine correctly," he said.
That's why Kingston said his group and Twin Ports-based Save our Sky Blue Waters and Save Lake Superior Association felt they needed to take the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to court.
Science has advanced since the 1960s, we know a lot more about these pollutants.We know a lot more about how dangerous they can be and the agency has tools to create permits that will protect our resources.
The concern is what's leaking from the facility's tailings basin. Kingston said since Minntac's permit expired the state has classified these pollutants as harmful and as they are not listed in Minntac's most recent permit, the state is not doing its part to protect nearby water and wild rice.
"It's more about this agency's inability to regulate this industry," he said.
Minntac isn't the only mine operating with an expired permit. There are currently 15 in Minnesota. According to president of the Iron Mining Association Kelsey Johnson, political push back from environmental groups have made the MPCA slow to rule on permit applications leaving mines in limbo.
"It's a very unknown, very difficult situation to be in because you want to work with the state to meet and exceed any expectations that they lay out in their mine applications but if they aren't giving you guidance or a structure about what they expect of you, it makes it very difficult to comply with," she said.
But to Hudson, it's about making sure that when those standards come out they're doing the best they can to keep the water clear.
"We want this permit to come out and be the best permit that the agency can do so we chose a lawsuit that allows them the leeway to do their job. We just demand that they do their job," he said.
And with the first application for a copper-nickel mining permit in the area, Hudson said his agency wants to make sure the regulators are doing their jobs with the mines already on the Iron Range.
The MPCA and U.S. Steel, which owns Minntac, have said they are aware of the lawsuit but have declined comment.