Proposed mining legislation continued to drum up controversy this week after legislators drafting the bill once again incorporated input from Gogebic Taconite, a mining company interested in developing northern Wisconsin under the bill’s provision whose involvement in proposed mining legislation last year drew wide criticism.
GTac has offered input since mining legislation was introduced two years ago. Opponents have long criticized this collaboration, and in tandem with the recent findings that mining bill advocates contributed millions to Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators, these opponents are accusing bill writers of allowing money to dictate legislation.
“It’s tougher to characterize which is a bigger outrage: out-of-state special interest groups throwing money to get their way, or [the] Legislature allowing it and rolling back their environmental standards,” One Wisconsin Now spokesperson Mike Browne said.
GTac wants to make changes to sections of the bill dealing with input in the mining permit approval process and environmental standards.
Browne said a number of groups, especially environmental ones, with interest in the legislation have not been provided with a preview of the bill.
One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross said the drafting records raise concerns about which publics legislators are working to protect.
“The drafting records and their actions demonstrate they’re more interested in fattening their campaign accounts and serving the interests of an out-of-state mining company than protecting the people of Wisconsin and our clean air and water,” Ross said in a statement.
The statement highlighted the discovery of seven emails titled “GTac requests” containing many of GTac’s suggestions to the legislation. The statement noted legislators wrote many of these suggestions into the bill before its introduction Jan. 16.
Mining bill co-author Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said it is not uncommon for legislators to work with stakeholders affected in some way by the legislation.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t ask questions, particularly for a company that would create thousands of jobs,” Suder said.
He stressed GTac is not writing the bill. Rather, he said, the company is providing input as a company affected by the legislation and he said it is important to know “legislators are controlling the process.”
Suder also said GTac promised to compensate for any environmental damage and recognized its financial responsibility.
Though many stakeholders have come forward with concerns about GTac’s involvement, Suder said he and other bill writers invited other concerned parties to contact them and talk about the issue. He said they reached out to various tribes and worked closely with the Department of National Resources. Suder said he was surprised such groups have not done any personal outreach and said his doors are always open.
Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said he has no problem with legislators hearing input from outside parties, noting he recently met with the CEO of GTac to discuss the bill. He said although he understands the company’s economic goals, it is important for legislators to separate themselves from corporate concerns. According to Hintz, the company’s economic interests are distinct from the state’s interests in creating jobs.
“We have to make decisions for the long term that respect the rights of the tribes and natural resources that are there now, but also balance that with the potential benefit of new jobs,” Hintz said. “Our job is to make the best decision that we can with the information that we have.”