Extreme Mining Advocate ALEC Member Rep. Knilans Promotes Mining Misinformation

April 19, 2012 by Barbara With

photo © Larry Kinnett

The Bad River, proposed site of a 22-mile mountaintop removal iron ore mine. Photo © Larry Kinnett

On April 16, 2012, Extreme Mining Advocate Rep. Joe Knilans (R-Janesville-ALEC) issued a press release trying to once again revive the controversial mining bill that would allow a 22-mile open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills. Knilans has deep ties to ALEC and during the last session showed his support of this organization by voting for and/or sponsoring several bills that appear to come directly from the ALEC library.

Knilans’ area of ALEC expertise was focused on eliminating transportation taxes and fees to benefit the road builders who would also profit from mining. Co-author of AJR 31—Transportation Tax and Fee Restriction Amendment—Knilans appears to have based his bill on ALEC’s Resolution in Opposition to the Use of Transportation Taxes Except for Investment in the Nation’s Transportation Infrastructure. The legislation is designed to create a constitutional amendment to restrict license fees for motor vehicles and all excise taxes collected by the State to be used exclusively for highway repair and maintenance, thus successfully diverting funds away from other forms of transportation. Knilans also signed the secrecy agreement around redistricting, and co-sponsored the Voter ID bill, modeled after ALEC’s Voter ID Act, which ended up in court and was deemed unconstitutional.

Knilans’ press release contains among other erroneous and misleading information: omission of facts about the process that AB426 took to pass the Assembly; issuing misinformation about the scientific data that has already been proven wrong; inflating potential economic gains; diminishing the very real environmental dangers; and ignoring Federal law in the form of Treaty Rights for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who have the right to co-managed the ceded territories, which they have done for years in partnership with the DNR.

Here is the story behind the story of Knilans’ propaganda:

After referencing the three public hearings for AB426, Knilans states, As a result of this input, our committee approved an amended bill, and the entire Assembly passed it in late January.

What he fails to mention is that all three public hearings came out against the bill, that the Bad River Band was never consulted about the mine, and that Speaker Pro-tem Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha ALEC) threw the public out of the legislature that night and once again conducted government behind closed and locked doors.

On February 27, 2004, Executive Order #39 was issued, recognizing the sovereignty of the 11 tribal governments in Wisconsin and the unique government-to-government relationship that exists between the State and the tribes. The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa were not consulted about the mine, and testified against it. In this footage taken two days prior to the Assembly vote, Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale ALEC) lies about the inherent rights of the nearly 50,000 members of the Great Lakes Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who have a constitutional right to co-manage the ceded territory that affects their natural resources:

After asking for several months who authored the bill, Assembly Republicans consistently stated that no one knew. Here Jobs Committee Chair Rep. Mary Williams, (R-Medford) and Bill Williams, president of G-Tac, also avoid the issue of who wrote the mining bill.

Suddenly, however, the night of passage, Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon ALEC) called on all Republican legislators to stand as co-authors. This blatant lie was part of a frightening, Nazi-like statement Fitzgerald appeared to be making to his corporate ALEC handlers, as every Republican legislator raised their hand at a time in the process where only those who were not stepping up as co-authors should have been counted.

After the March 2012 failure of the Jauch-Schultz compromise mining bill, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, (R-Juneau ALEC) admits that the mining company authored the bill.

If the mine were approved, it would have a short term economic impact in Wisconsin of $2 Billion and a long term impact of $1.2 billion per year. The average pay and benefits for mining related jobs would be as high as $82,000.

In a public discussion in Hurley in October, 2011 before AB426 was introduced, Bill Williams said that G-Tac would be bringing in out-of-state workers for the high paying jobs, while the service and construction jobs would be available to area residents. However, the more shocking came with the disclosure that only 30 local jobs would be available the first year, and that their comparison to Minnesota mines was skewed. The 700 local jobs being promised would take years to accomplish as various phases of the mine get up and running. And even then, mining technology is moving towards robots replacing the human work force. That meeting appears to be when local residents began to realize they were being lied to, and began withdrawing their support of the bill, as became apparent later in every public hearing.

Also, the provisions of the bill provided that the mining company would pay these taxes only on their profits, and that it might take them at least five years to get to that point, if at all. Even then, only half of the tax monies would go to the local communities with the other half going back to the state’s general fund. No funds would be available for local communities to build or maintain the transportation and energy infrastructure required for the mine’s construction.

The mining company would still be obligated to meet all permitting requirements of the DNR and the federal Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army Corps of Engineers testified repeatedly that the mining bill would violate their timelines, actually making it longer and more complicated for a mining company to get a permit. Also excluded in this statement is that fact that the DNR has been stacked with Walker appointees, including Secretary Cathy Stepp, who before securing her position there criticized the DNR for protecting the environment. Pat Stevens, head of the DNR Air and Waste Division was general counsel for the Wisconsin Builders Association, counsel for the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association and environmental policy director for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Watch here as 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, as is their missions state.

Because the iron mining process uses magnets rather than chemicals, it does not present the same kind of threat to the environment that a sulfide mine such as a copper or gold mine presents.

Here Knilans parrots the lies the mining company were also spreading: That a 22-mile open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills would not cause environmental damage because they claim to use magnets and not chemicals. Two scientists testified at the Joint Finance Committee hearing about their independent findings when analyzing samples they collected near the mine site. With or without chemical processing, the rock in the Penokees is love-grade and contains pyrites, which will generate sulfate runoff in quantities so large that the watershed would not be able to be properly process the load. Knilans’ press release once again contains outright lies about the dangers to the health and well-being of the Penokee watershed, as well as the damage that would be caused the wild rice the Bad River Band rely on for their food source.

Hull Rust Mahoning pit in Hibbing, MN. This land would have looked similar to northern Wisconsin without mining. Ashland County Board members Charles Ortman and Photographer Joel Austin visited the site. Austin said, "This picture was taken on an observation platform that was out in a kind of peninsula sticking out into the pit. There was pit on all sides of me except straight behind. I would guess something like 270 degrees. It's hard to convey in a photograph. This one is just a small chunk of it."

Hull Rust Mahoning pit in Hibbing, MN. This land would have looked similar to northern Wisconsin without mining. Ashland County Board members Charles Ortman and Photographer Joel Austin visited the site. Austin said, “This picture was taken on an observation platform that was out in a kind of peninsula sticking out into the pit. There was pit on all sides of me except straight behind. I would guess something like 270 degrees. It’s hard to convey in a photograph. This one is just a small chunk of it.” Photo © Joel Austin

The mine would not turn Northern Wisconsin into a wasteland, devoid of tourism. The last mine to close in Wisconsin became Lake Wazee, a beautiful natural area and tourist destination.

Comparing Lake Wazee to a 22-mile open pit iron ore mine being proposed by a coal company with no experience in iron ore mining is like comparing a gravel pit to the Grand Canyon. The proposed mine site sits on top of one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful outdoor arenas, the Lake Superior Basin, where the clean environment is the basis of the economy. Since 1909 by the Binational Forum has watched over Lake Superior and its surrounding communities. For over 100 years, this cooperative international committee has taken great steps to keep this area clean. Recognizing Lake Superior is an extraordinary body of water that cannot be replicated, the Binational Forum works to protect the area from encroachments such as this.

According to the scientists that testified at the February 17 Joint Finance Committee hearing on AB426, the iron mined at Lake Wazee was a high-grade concentrated ore that did not contain the sulfides or 70% silica like the Gogebic range does.

At the January 11 public hearing in Hurley, Mike Wiggins, Jr. Chair, Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians said: "We recognize some of the things in here as being unbelievable threats to us. What you heard from our attorney is that we’re willing to go to the mat on this stuff.  I heard someone say this isn't the time to ask questions. What does taking GTAC off the hook for groundwater contamination deeper than 1,000 feet have to do with streamlined processes? Nothing, but we could consult about that. After all this goes away, the open pit mine sits there and so do we."

At the January 11 public hearing in Hurley, Mike Wiggins, Jr. Chair, Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians said: “We recognize some of the things in here as being unbelievable threats to us. What you heard from our attorney is that we’re willing to go to the mat on this stuff. I heard someone say this isn’t the time to ask questions. What does taking GTAC off the hook for groundwater contamination deeper than 1,000 feet have to do with streamlined processes? Nothing, but we could consult about that. After all this goes away, the open pit mine sits there and so do we.”

G-Tac and their open pit would destroy Copper Falls and the hundreds of acres of trout streams, hiking trials, silence, and the untouched beauty that are the economic indicators for tourism in the Basin. Beyond that, to expect that an open pit iron ore that will displace billions of cubic kilometers of rock resulting in an equal amount of sulfuric acid released into the watershed can keep Lake Superior safe from long-term pollution is at best foolish and its worse, an environmental nightmare waiting to happen.

Knilans and other extreme mining proponents who mislead the public by claiming that a 22-mile open pit iron ore mine would not hurt the area are out of touch with the real needs of the community. Working with ALEC legislation, however, Knilans has demonstrated that the needs of the people are transcended by the needs of his continuing corporate sponsors. He has proven his allegiance is with ALEC; the abuse of public trust will be his undoing.

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