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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Nasty Trail of Mining Dirt

As a rat, I have a deep appreciation for cunning and admire a bit of deviousness. After all, that’s how my kind has survived in this rough, sometimes unfriendly world. But even I was taken aback by the latest high jinks in the hallowed halls of the state capitol, and the doublespeak and outright lies by those who stand to gain.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or should I say in deference to my many friends who do indeed live under rocks, blissfully oblivious to state news), there has been much ado about a renewed interest in mining in Wisconsin, and a giant, out of state corporation has made known their intent to create an enormous open pit taconite mine in Ashland County. Couched in the tired old cliché that environmental protections kill jobs, there has been much rhetoric about how state laws protecting water resources undermine the potentially vast economic boon that open pit mining could bring to Wisconsin.

In spring, a terrible bill completely undermining environmental protections and clearly written by the mining industry was leaked to the public but was never formally introduced. Just last week, blithely ignoring the well-documented history of boom and bust cycles accompanying mining operations around the world, and without questioning the mining company’s assertion of how many local jobs their operation would actually create, the state senate has created their “Select Committee on Mining Jobs” to look at “streamlining” the state’s mining laws.

First there was a bit of a kerfuffle over who would be appointed to the select committee. The Democrat legislators recommended to join the committee were rejected by the Republican leadership. Then a day later, the recommendations were accepted after all. But that very same day, the Guv introduced a special session (and we all remember the last one, don’t we?) called “Back to Work Wisconsin.” Buried in the long list of bills touted as helping to create jobs are proposals to revise state laws guiding protection of wetlands and streams. There are no details yet, but you can bet they’ll be chock full of many of the exemptions the mining company hoped to achieve through their bill this spring. Suddenly it all makes sense – who cares who’s on the Senate Select Committee on Mining Jobs? After these special session bills, they won’t have much to talk about anyway!

And then there’s the mining folks. The Wisconsin Mining Association, a self-proclaimed non-partisan organization reconstituted from the dark days of debate on the Crandon Mine that had been proposed at the headwaters of the Wolf River, hosted a press conference to proclaim their fervent belief that job creation and environmental protection go hand in hand. They issued a list of catchy “principles” including this kicker: “The Wisconsin Mining Association believes that facts matter.” Well, that’s certainly comforting. Unfortunately they don’t seem compelled to actually use them.

They also issued their list of key elements of new mining legislation, prefaced by a totally fabricated history of the current mining law. They flatly state, “Wisconsin’s mining laws were written for sulfide mines.” According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, the non-partisan record-keeping arm of the legislature, the fact is that current laws were written for all metallic mining, with a special emphasis on taconite mining! As a result of the Crandon mine debate, the law was amended to add an extra step for proposed sulfide mines, but that step does not apply to taconite mine proposals. There is absolutely no need to change our current laws to ensure the efficient review of a taconite mine proposal. The real issue is that an enormous, deep mine in the Penokee hills could not possibly proceed without utterly devastating the water resources of the region, and the changes demanded by the Wisconsin Mining Association and their cronies in the legislature are to allow just that.

posted by the River Rat

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