The Rat finds himself feeling a little sorry for Mr. Williams, the president of Gogebic Taconite, the day after the Assembly’s mining bill hit a brick wall in the Senate. Not because he didn’t get changes in the state mining law that would have allowed his company to take the iron and run at the expense of Wisconsin’s water resources, but because it sure seems like poor Mr. Williams became a pawn in a much bigger plan. Sure, he lied to folks in Northern Wisconsin when he said they didn’t need any changes in law to do their mine. Then a few months later he said GTac would stop pursuing a permit until they had “certainty” on a timeline for their permit review. And shortly after that a draft bill came out that set a ridiculous timeline, shut out the public, and exempted mining operations from environmental protections. But it was the business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, that was the tail wagging this dog.
Now Rat is by no means an expert on the economics of mining, but after a few conversations with some of the folks who are, discovered they were just as perplexed about how the GTac mine could actually pencil out. Taconite, the material they want to mine in the Penokee Hills, is by definition a low-quality ore. The percentage of iron in the rock is low, and it takes a lot of time and effort to sort out the good stuff. The Penokee deposit is also very deep, over 1000’ in some locations, and buried at an angle that makes it hard to get. Even with higher prices for iron, it’s hard to figure how the expense of extracting, processing and transporting the iron could be profitable. No doubt being able to go after it without worrying about pesky environmental regulations would help, but even if they were given free rein to dig as they pleased, it hardly seems worth it.Rat is betting Mr. Williams figured that out for himself, but agreed to stay in the game to help with WMC’s real agenda – use the perfect foil of jobs for the depressed North and factory workers in Milwaukee to topple the first domino in their plan to dismantle environmental laws one industry at a time. Iron mining would be first, even though there was no guarantee GTac would actually proceed, then on to sulfide mining! And after that, sky’s the limit. Too bad the whole jobs screen started to fall apart at the final hour. Even though GTac claimed they would hire Wisconsin workers, they earlier noted no one here had the skills, and there were no provisions for job training. Then, the day before the vote in the Senate, WisBusiness reported that Milwaukee area mining equipment manufacturers could sell lots of stuff if GTac opened a mine, but no new manufacturing jobs would be created. That didn’t stop WMC from pulling out all the stops and getting union workers to lobby Milwaukee-area senators to vote yes. Luckily, they read the paper too and saw the bill for the sham that it was.