This past week, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed a controversial bill which would drastically change Wisconsin’s iron mining regulations. An identical bill will be picked up in the state’s Republican-controlled Assembly this week and will mostly likely pass there as well.
Republican lawmakers authored the bill to hasten the process of approving companies who wish to mine iron ore in Wisconsin. In particular, this piece of legislation is being crafted to quickly satisfy the needs of the Florida mining company Gogebic Taconite. The company has promised to build a four-mile-long, half-mile-wide, $1.5 billion open-pit iron mine in the Penokee Range, which is located in the Bad River watershed in northern Wisconsin.
The company, however, has requested our state Legislature speed up the approval process to facilitate them building the mine. Under the proposed regulations, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would have to approve a mining permit within 480 days. Currently, the process is open-ended.
The procedure for approving mines must remain open-ended. Wisconsin’s environment is complex, and the process for determining the extent of damage done by a massive iron mine must be thorough and comprehensive — no one will be able to replace what has been destroyed.
The proposed bill has several more serious shortcomings. The legislation also would not allow the public to challenge a DNR permit decision until after it has been issued. So, yes, you would still be able to challenge the legality of a mining company destroying your environment, but not until after your water burns like gasoline.
Besides creating a faster process for approving mines, the mining bill will provide monumental tax breaks for mining companies who will be literally taking our land. The bill exempts mining companies from paying a $7 per ton tax on waste rock —any material that is not the one the mining company is looking for.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, this exemption is expected to result in a loss of $171 million just from the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron mine. The bill also exempts companies from paying any taxes on the iron ore they would be extracting from Wisconsin. Supporters of the bill argue these tax exemptions are necessary in order for Wisconsin to remain a competitive mining state.
So how will the state of Wisconsin make a profit from letting companies destroy our environment? The company will be taxed based solely on the profits it makes from mining. The problem with taxing corporations is that they are the poster children of tax evasion. Wisconsin will see little if any of the expected tax money from Gogebic Taconite after they manage to write off all their profits as business expenses, not to mention any money Wisconsin does manage to get from this mining endeavor will likely be spent defending the state from lawsuits.
This brings me to a point that has been extensively overlooked. These proposed mining changes are not just going to affect a couple of citizens in northern Wisconsin. These changes are going to affect the entire state. The modifications in regulations and tax exemptions are not just for Gogebic Taconite; they will be available for any iron mining company who wants to mine anywhere in the state.
Despite all of these flaws in the mining legislation, the bill is still being championed as a way to bring jobs to the state. However, mining jobs are not stable jobs. When a mining company builds a mine, there is an economic boom and a need for jobs. Gogebic Taconite expects the proposed mine to bring 700 jobs directly to Wisconsin, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. However, the resources of the mine will not last forever and eventually will run out. So forty years from now, when our land has been stripped, our resources pillaged and our environment destroyed, the mining company will pack up its equipment and move on to the next resource-rich area, leaving at least 700 people to look for work in a land stripped of its resources, beauty and dignity.
The state of Wisconsin has a proud history of mining — a miner is prominently displayed on our state flag. However, above all else on our great seal is the word “forward.” Wisconsin’s greatest legacy is its drive to always progress forward. With all of the available technology we have on our hands today, we should be able to create a mining bill that provides both stable jobs and protects our environment. However, if this sad excuse for a mining bill, with corporate tax breaks and lax environmental standards, passes, Wisconsin’s wetlands will become Wisconsin’s wastelands.
Jared Mehre ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science, sociology and legal studies.