February 5, 2013 by Rebecca Kemble and Nicole Schulte
On Monday, the authors of SB1/AB1, a bill that offers iron mining companies special exemptions from many of Wisconsin’s environmental protection rules and regulations, held a press conference in an attempt to put a bipartisan shine on several amendments they plan to introduce when Senate and Assembly mining committees vote in executive session tomorrow.
Their carefully worded explanations for a few relatively insignificant modifications of the bill – some of them simply reverting back to current law – were designed to imply that both Democratic and Republican lawmakers had come to agreement on the measure. But reactions from Democratic lawmakers after the media event (to which they were not invited) belied those implications.
Here’s Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) answering a question about why there were no Democratic legislative members at the podium during the media event:
Rep. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland), who represents the area that would be most affected by a mountain top removal iron mining project in the Penokee Hills, was surprised that her name was mentioned as one of the collaborators on the amendments. In a statement released today, she said that she had met with Reps. Suder and Mark Honadel (R-Oak Creek), but said that meeting did not result in any substantive changes to the bill.
“I hate to think I was being used as window dressing, but I’m not sure what else to call it,” said Bewley, adding, “There was no give and take, no negotiations over what we’d like to see, no discussion on how we’d fix any of the many problems in the bill.”
Bewley went on to accuse the authors of “currying favor with an out-of-state mining company” and using the amendments “to distract the public from the fact that they aren’t really engaging in a bipartisan effort to update our mining laws.”
Suder also mentioned the name of Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) as among the group of minority party members who met with him to discuss the bill. In an interview after the media event, Clark said he appreciated the opportunity to talk to the bill’s authors, but said that the amendments didn’t address concerns he and others raised. “You can’t put enough lipstick on the swine animal this bill started out to be,” said Clark.
In a stunning display of hyperbole, Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) said the authors “went the extra mile” to eliminate sections in the original bill relating to the site design management zone and mandatory intervention boundaries that allowed for more lenient pollution boundaries. The amendments eliminate those provisions, effectively reverting back to current law:
None of the authors addressed accusations by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Chairman Mike Wiggins, Jr. in a letter to Sen. Tiffany last week that the process used to put this bill forward has been abusive of the rights of Native Sovereign Nations. Neither do any of the amendments acknowledge the treaty rights held by Bad River and other Ojibwe Bands in Ceded Territory to co-manage the natural resources of the area likely to be the site of an iron mine.
Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) released a statement calling the amended bill, “deeply flawed.” Calling for a formal legislative hearing up north to gather comments from those who would be most affected by a mine in the area, he concluded that the amended bill “still sets an unrealistic timeline, it still gives too much power over the process to the mining company, it still contains provisions that weaken environmental protections and it still short-changes Wisconsin taxpayers.”