March 11, 2012 by Barbara With
On March 6, the Wisconsin State Senate rejected the Joint Finance Committee’s Substitute Amendment to AB426, the Assembly version of a ferrous mining bill authored by Gogebic Taconite, the mining company seeking to open a 22-mile open-pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin. After the Senate voted it down, the bill was referred back to the Senate Organization Committee where it will stay until a compromise can be reached.
Shortly after the vote, mining executive Bill Williams released a statement saying that, despite the fact that G-Tac was allowed to actually author the mining bill, Wisconsin was not welcoming enough because their bill could not pass the people’s muster. ”We get the message,” he said in a press release announcing that G-Tac would be leaving the state.
Immediately after the vote, extreme mining advocates fired up the corporate propaganda echo chamber. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the Bradley Foundation-funded MacIver Institute and Walker-appointed Cathy Stepp, DNR Secretary, issued press releases on the audacity of the Democrats to have actually listened to their constituents and acted in their interests.
An overwhelming majority of the testimony from every public hearing on the bill was heavily opposed to it, and even pro-miners rejected aspects of the bill. After hours of testimony about how mining would adversely affect the economy and environment of the area; after being educated about how the bill has already violated international treaty rights and would thus result in the ruination of the Bad River Tribe, extreme mining advocates still claimed that G-Tac leaving the state was the result of Democrats trying to undermine Scott Walker’s “It’s Working” campaign.
The roller coaster ride the bill has taken to get to the Senate floor is indicative of the story behind the story of the mining company misleading the public about their intentions from the start. During several information sessions held in Ashland and Iron Counties, G-Tac promised citizens that they had no intention of changing current Wisconsin environmental laws. During a WPR broadcast on January 19, 2011, Matt Fifield, Project Director for GTAC, explained, “If the question is, ‘are we trying to influence them to pass legislation that’s going to weaken environmental laws, that’s going to weaken federal and state air and water quality,’ the answer is ‘no.’” What Fifield didn’t reveal was that G-Tac was actually in the process of authoring a new mining bill, and while the bill did not weaken the standards, it simply did not require the mining company to have to comply with them.
On January 21, 2011, Fifield told an audience at a public forum at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center that G-Tac had access to “thousands of feet of drill logs” that told them of the “world-class deposits” of iron ore that possess many qualities demanded by the market. “This is iron mining; this is not sulfide mining. Because we have a physical process—smashing rocks and pulling iron out with magnet not heavy chemical treating—iron mining project are more easily able to comply with these strict regulations.”
However, according to two scientists who testified at a February 17 Joint Finance Committee meeting about the bill, the ore body cannot be accessed without digging through high sulfide overburden, and the definitions used in the bill were misleading and scientifically meaningless. And while G-Tac may not use heavy chemicals to treat the ore, if they have thousands of feet of drill logs, they would have known the impact of mining an ore-body that rich in pyrite, even without chemicals. That billions of gallons of sulfuric acid could be leeched from the overburden into the groundwater was never discussed.
Also completely absent from any conversation were the rights of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation sits a mere six miles down river from the mine site. According to Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins, Jr., the tribe has a right to negotiate the protections for the “ceded territories,” or those lands the US received in exchange for agreeing to Bad River’s right to co-manage them in perpetuity . The first legislators to stand up to protect the sovereign rights of the tribes were Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Sen Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) whose alternative substitute amendment to the bill was rejected by the Joint Finance Committee.
In a fabricated newscast produced by propaganda station MI (MacIver Institute, funded by the Bradley Foundation, which also funds American For Prosperity), Sen. Alberta Darling’s (R-River Hills) outrage that the Democrats actually stood up for their constituents did not interfere with her pursuit of an extreme mining agenda. “To turn down an opportunity like this, in this economy, to me, is devastating, and it’s going to affect real people’s lives in Wisconsin.” One wonders where Darling was during this testimony by a young pregnant mother from Bad River who tearful appealed to Darling and the other women on the committee to think of her unborn baby. Watch her testimony here.
Fears that the DNR will not protect the environment have been successfully confirmed by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp herself, a Walker appointee. In her press release, Stepp sounds more like a Walker PR tool than the head of an agency charged with protecting our natural resources. Walker’s choice of a former Republican state senator and outspoken critic of the department is in keeping with his pattern of installing personnel to raid the resources when the time comes. As Assembly Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) said, “Putting Cathy Stepp in charge of the DNR is like putting Lindsay Lohan in charge of a rehab center.” Stepp’s best asset is her ability to follow orders now that this moment has finally arrived.
During recent testimony on October 25, 2011, DNR Deputy Secretary Al Shea, and head of DNR Water Division Ken Johnson admit they have no idea why SS AB 24, the bill easing regulations on navigable waterways, does not actually protect the people, water and wildlife. Watch their testimony here.
Pat Stevens, head of the DNR Air and Waste Division sitting to the left of Johnson and Shea in the video did not speak during this hearing. It seemed he was present only to make sure that Johnson and Shea toed the Walker-Stepp line. Before his appointment to the position last year, Stevens was general counsel for the Wisconsin Builders Association, counsel for the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association and environmental policy director for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
Their response of, “We’ll have to follow up on that” is similar to the response Cathy Stepp gave Tribal Chair Wiggins when he took her out onto the Kakagon Sloughs last summer to show her the wild rice that would be killed by the mine. At a talk at UW-Madison last month, Wiggins relates the story and her answer to his question about how much she could speak about the real environmental impact a mine six miles away will have to the Bad River Reservation.
When asked how long she could speak about the negative environmental impacts, and as a consequence, the social and health impact on people of an open pit iron ore mining, after some stuttering and stammering, her response was, “We’re not really aware of that, but we have staff looking into that stuff.” Let’s hope she’s not referring to Shea, Johnson and Stevens.