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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wretched Mining Bill Moves Up

Before the party-line vote to approve the awful mining bill and send it to the full Assembly, it was all Rat could do to keep from squeaking out loud in outrage at the antics of some of the legislators. Representatives Louis Molepske, Penny Bernard Schaber and Sandy Pasch asked hard questions about the eight amendments to the bill that were offered up by Republican members of the Assembly Committee on Jobs, the Economy and Small Business. The mealy mouthed answers they received made it abundantly clear that none of the amendments did a thing to address the myriad concerns raised by citizens from around the state. Representative Pasch didn’t mince words: “This whole process has been tainted. The amendments don’t address any of the concerns we all heard over and over again.”

The proposed bill significantly weakens protections for groundwater, lakes, streams and wetlands, undercuts public participation and reduces the ability of the communities most impacted by a mine to protect themselves. At a day-long hearing in Milwaukee, those in opposition to the bill outnumbered supporters two to one. Even more telling, at another day-long hearing in Hurley where support for a new mine and the hope of jobs it represents runs high, no local citizen or elected official supported the provisions that weaken environmental protections or public process. But on Tuesday, the Assembly Committee approved it anyway.

And the amendments they made have nothing to do with protecting people or the environment – they are about covering the butts of the bill authors, pure and simple. The changes made do nothing more than

obscure the bill’s most blatant violations of federal law and Wisconsin’s constitution. Incredibly, Representative Amy Loudenbeck showed the cards of the Republican Assembly caucus when she stated that was in fact the intent of at least one of the amendments. The Public Trust Doctrine, a long-standing component of the state constitution, mandates the state protect waterways for the public. The proposed bill stated that because a mine is in the public interest (?!!), water withdrawals needed for mining activities outweigh any subsequent harm done to lakes and rivers. Recognizing this clearly violates the Public Trust Doctrine, an amendment to soften this language was offered “to reduce the chance for legal challenges,” according to Representative Loudenbeck.

Despite the outpouring of concerns and recommended revisions to the bill to protect Wisconsin citizens and natural resources, the Committee’s Republican members chose instead to just listen to the warnings of their attorneys about where the bill is most vulnerable to be overturned in court. Nothing like sound public policymaking, eh?

Posted by the River Rat

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