Mining regulation reform has returned to the foreground of Wisconsin legislation.
Last year, controversy erupted over a bill that would streamline the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources permitting process and reduce environmental standards for mines across the state. The plot was thickened by the fact the mining firm Gogebic Taconite made clear its intentions to begin a $1.5 billion open pit mining project in northern Wisconsin, contingent on the passage of the bill.
Business-friendly lawmakers, representatives from northern Wisconsin districts that stood to benefit from an influx in employment and Gov. Scott Walker, who saw a golden opportunity to make good on his job creation promises, did their best to push the legislation through. However, an abundance of concerns about relaxing mining pollution standards, coupled with the vocal protests of northern Wisconsin’s Native American community — the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s tribal council in particular, put a stop to the legislation.
This session, Republicans have put another mining bill on the table. This bill is said to be quite similar to the one that caused so much controversy in last year’s legislative session. Mining legislation is back, and after throwing up its hands in defeat last spring, Gogebic has renewed its interest in mining the ore-rich sands of northern Wisconsin. Here we go again.
Yesterday a joint committee of lawmakers held a public hearing on the bill. The hearing was well attended — lawmakers answered a (limited) number of questions and heard arguments both for and against the Gogebic mine and mining regulation reform. George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former DNR secretary, claimed the bill would permit the destruction of wetlands. Four high school students from Hurley explained although they would prefer to stay in their hometown, they will be forced to move to find jobs.
I understand the importance of creating jobs and stimulating the state economy, and there is no question the Gogebic mine would accomplish this goal. However, I don’t think job creation should be pursued without consideration of its costs.
It seems obvious Republicans, under a great deal of political pressure to make good on their job creation promises, are willing to push the mining bill through, unmindful of its harmful environmental impact. It is no secret open pit mining is the most primitive and environmentally destructive form of mining that is still widely practiced today — it is unsightly and loud, desolates vast tracts of land and contaminates groundwater with hazardous runoff. According to the Bad River Band, this acid runoff will destroy their watershed and ruin rice harvests. Yet there are quite a few Republicans at the Capitol who ran on a platform of job creation, and with this mining bill in hand, will go to great lengths to follow through on campaign promises.
True, Wisconsin could use an economic boost, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of railroading the mining permit process and reducing environmental regulation. The situation is not so dire that in order to create jobs, the state of Wisconsin has been forced to lift regulations put in place years ago to protect natural resources and keep residents safe.
We are talking about the DNR, not the Sierra Club — DNR mining regulations are not the work of radical environmentalists, but rather commonsense measures to protect Wisconsin and Wisconsinites. And yet, because of the stubborn and desperate pursuit of mining legislation, it is a distinct possibility environmental policy in Wisconsin will regress.
Charles Godfrey ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in physics and math.