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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.  

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