January 22, 2013 by Rebecca Kemble
At a press conference unveiling Sen. Tim Cullen’s (D-Janesville) alternative mining bill today, Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) said the controversial wetlands deregulation bill he helped craft last year only passed because of assurances by Scott Walker’s administration and the Department of Natural Resources that the provisions in it would only apply to small scale real estate development projects and would not be incorporated into a mining bill.
“Throughout the process we heard that this is not a backdoor mining bill,” said Schultz. He described meetings in which DNR Deputy Secretary Matt Moroney downplayed concerns from the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, tribal leaders and the Wisconsin Wildlife Foundation that removing the “Areas of Special Natural Resource Interest” designation for fragile wetlands and setting up wetlands “mitigation banks” would ease the way for a large scale mining project in the pristine, water rich environment of the Penokee Hills on the shores of Lake Superior.
Schultz quoted a 2011 Wisconsin State Journal article in which Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie responded to the allegation that the wetlands bill was a back-door attempt to promote mining by saying, “That is a flat-out lie. This has nothing to do with mining. It is part of an overall DNR reform package that has been planned since January.”
But last session’s AB 426, and now SB1/AB1, the mining bill promoted by Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), incorporate all of the most controversial elements of the wetlands bill, including allowing a mining company to fill in lakes, streams and wetlands with potentially toxic mining waste.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce downplayed the significance of that provision, calling those waterways “puddles.” In response, Sen. Schultz said, “I’m not familiar with any statutory definition of puddles.”
In describing the ecosystem of the proposed mining site, Schultz added, “This is arguably Wisconsin’s most pristine watershed. It is an enormously important source of water to the Bad River. The Kakagon Sloughs are called the “everglades of the north.” The Bad River tribe said their standard is seven generations, and this puts at risk what is important economically and also what is sacred to them.”