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Monday, January 28, 2013

Mining the Truth from Last Week’s Capitol Spectacle

This Rat’s perspective on last week’s Capitol hearing on mining was constrained.  It wasn't just the restrictions imposed on the humans in the room on cell phone and Ipad use, and even whispering and smiling.  A scurrilous Rat like yours truly must keep way low and watch the proceedings between chair legs, high heels, and microphone cords.  But my finely tuned Rat ears heard plenty.

I could hear the legislators parrying with the orange-hatted mining supporters – not dudes in suits, but real (appearing) working folks – about the jobs the mine would bring.  I could not tell if pro-mine legislators looked those folks in the eyes and, with a straight face, say, “You will see mining jobs.”

(Photo courtesy Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times)

What?  No Mine?  Really??

Maybe they couldn’t promise that because they know in their hearts there may never be a mine in the Penokees.   But in their political calculations, Republican mining proponents are pretty clever.  They have their bases covered, mine or no mine.

1.  They have said, “Here’s how high?” when their political contribution patrons demanded they all jump for mining.  If a mine doesn’t get built, they can say they tried mightily, without drying up that source of campaign cash. 

2.   If they try mightily and fail, they can blame the Republicans' favorite nemeses:  shrill and clueless Madison environmentalists and obstructionist Indians invoking their dreaded treaty rights. 

3.  But Republicans will reserve their greatest wrath for the faceless federal bureaucrats of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In what could be a rare instance of bureaucratic heroism (you don’t put those two words in a sentence about that agency very often), the Army Corps has told legislators that what the state won’t do to review a mining proposal, the Corps will. That could take 4 or more years.

4.  Back to the Indians, specifically the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa – they will fight this mine to the death, using their “treatment-as-a-state” status that gives them authority to regulate water quality on their lands.  The Penokee mine would essentially destroy the headwaters of the tribe’s lifeblood, the Bad River.  Tribal chairman Mike Wiggins did look legislators in the eye last week and declared, in no uncertain terms, they will fight the mine to the death.  Building a mine upstream from their homeland would be “genocide,” he said.

Finally, in a rather misleading take on mining and jobs, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel calls Sen. Chris Larson’s statement that the mine won’t create jobs for at least 7 years “mostly false” on its Politi-Fact page January 27. The hair the paper split was that even though there might not be actual rocks dug up for mining for at least 7 years, there might be “jobs created along the way.”  This article misses the bigger point that the promise of jobs in the numbers offered by mining proponents is an audacious act of smoke-blowing.  They have to know the Army Corps’ assessment process and the Bad River tribe’s legal battle, will stymie, for years and years, any meaningful job creation in Hurley and other nearby towns. 

But you see my point?  They get a mine, they cheer; in the likely event they don’t, they spray unmerciful blame like a weed killer, without reflecting how they could have done this right from the outset.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nice Ice, Chill Winds

Postcards from my muskrat cousins are pouring in.  They are relieved that there is ice this winter under which to hide from hungry eagles and other hawk-eyed birds (such as hawks).  Some muskrats tell me they even pop up onto the surface of the ice at night, through holes the ice fishermen make, and slip-slide around under the light of the moon.  

And I thought river rats had fun.

This River Rat is having no fun anticipating the chill winds blowing down from the state Capitol.  When it comes to conservation, it is nothing but ill chill winds.

The biggest gust of ill wind is mining legislation. (To paraphrase Dylan, we should call these idiot winds.)  Lawmakers, with the governor’s approval, are poised to pass a bill that would rip a hole in northern Wisconsin a quarter mile wide by up to 15 miles long and nearly 2,000 feet deep.  They’re also itching to blow up a “mining moratorium” law, in place since the mid 1990s, that has successfully prevented mining that would cause the dreaded acid mine drainage.

The governor wants an income tax decrease, which he will get.  If you reduce revenue to state coffers, you gotta reduce costs, and that likely means state employees will get whacked.  Legislators’ favorite target to starve is the state’s guardian of natural resources, the DNR.

Frac away
And you know all that valuable frac sand being mined and shipped out of state – an extremely valuable commodity without which the domestic natural gas and oil boom couldn’t be?  It leaves Wisconsin, free of charge, and the local communities that pay the price for the environmental and social disruption, get nothing.  Nor does the state.  Wisconsin is a now a player in the oil industry, but it’s dressed up like a bar-sponsored softball team playing Major League Baseball.

Hostility to conservation is not unique to the Legislature. It starts, and it prospers, at the top, with Governor Walker.  He gives his annual state of the state speech next week.  Here’s an opportunity for the Gov surprise us. Rat offers this simple language to be inserted into the speech.   This is not tree-hugging, blow-up-the-ship-to-save-the-whales rhetoric here; it’s pragmatic and common sense. 
Water cannot be afterthought.  There is no economy, there is no life, without clean and plentiful water. 
Hang around your radio the night of January 15 and see if the Gov works any of Rat’s fine prose into his speech. 

I know what you’re thinking – that’s as likely as muskrats enjoying ice in July. But it's worth a try.
The State of the State’s Waters
Wisconsin is defined by water – our borders, our name, our economy, our identity, are formed and shaped by water.

Water is essential to who we are and what we do – as manufacturers, utilities, farmers and service providers who depend on water to do their business, and as people who have fun in and by the water. 

It is essential that we protect our water – both its quality and its quantity – vigorously, systematically and with the seriousness it deserves.  Our economy, our quality of life, and our future as a state depend on it. 

It will be my (Gov. Scott Walker) administration’s policy to mobilize those state agencies and offices equipped to defend the public trust to protect our water.  

  • ·         We will ensure that drinking water drawn from underground sources will not be depleted. 
  • ·         We will also ensure that that same groundwater – the drinking water for 90% of Wisconsin residents – will be protected from contamination by pesticides, nitrates, bacteria, viruses and other pollutants. 
  •          We will work to reduce to the greatest extent possible the pollution of our surface waters of algae-producing phosphorus and keep the soil that delivers that phosphorus on the land. 
  •   ·         We will strive to limit, even eliminate, exotic plants and animals that wreak havoc on our waters and cause tens of millions of dollars of damage. 
  • ·         We will follow the letter and the spirit of the Great Lakes Compact to protect our Great Lakes.