Dear Mary Burke: Repeal and Restore Mining Law

October 21, 2014 by Barbara With

Dear Mary Burke,

What the public was told at the January 2011 mining presentation at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. Later, GTac never obtain local approval and changed the law so that they would not have to pay a special tax, be responsible for reclamation or have previous environmental track record matter. Photo: Eric Iverson.

Matt Fifield and Bill Williams on the left, January 2011. This is what the public was told at the January 2011 mining presentation at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. Later, GTac never obtained local approval, and they changed the law so that they would not have to pay a special tax, be responsible for reclamation, or have operators’ previous environmental track record matter. Photo: Eric Iverson.

I’m not sure where you were back in January 2011, before Scott Walker and his Tea Party Republicans turned this state into a dysfunctional corporate-driven train wreck. I was at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center with Matt Fifield from Gogebic Taconite (GTac) and several hundred of my friends and neighbors.

That night, Fifield told us that GTac had no intention of changing Wisconsin’s mining law as they considered applying for permits to build a 22-mile open-pit mountaintop removal iron ore mine in the middle of our pristine Bad River watershed on the shores of Lake Superior.

The history of this bill is complex and confusing, for those who haven’t been paying close attention. GTac lied to us when, in July 2011, President Bill Williams told us he didn’t think there was any legislation “out there.” (See video below). However, an open records request from Kelda Helen Roys revealed that in May 2011, GTac lobbyists were working with Governor Walker’s office to write the new legislation.

Together, they removed every protection we had, including economic (no more pesky tonnage tax), environmental (now suddenly the law provided the presumption that the mining company would pollute), judicial (no more contested case hearings), regulatory (DNR becomes a permitting as opposed to regulatory agency). They set the state up for conflicting timelines with the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers as well as federal lawsuits from the Chippewa Federation for violation of Treaty Rights.

On top of that, democracy was shredded as legislators beholden to GTac ignored the overwhelming will of the people. Each public hearing for AB 426, the first version of the bill, —December 11, 2011 in West Allis (62% against), January 11, 2012 in Hurley (85% opposed), and February 17, 2012 in Madison (92% opposed)— revealed that more and more people were becoming aware of the dangers of this company and their proposal to develop a mountaintop removal mine in the Penokee Hills. AB426 died in the Senate after Republican Dale Schulz voted against it.

GTac Lobbyists Tim Meyer and Bob Seitz, and President Bill Williams being questioned before the Iron County Mining Impact Committee and Iron County Board

GTac Lobbyists Tim Meyer and Bob Seitz, and President Bill Williams being questioned before the Iron County Mining Impact Committee and Iron County Board. Seitz is also a lobbyist for Americans for Prosperity. Photo: Rebecca Kemble.

According to Meg Turville-Heitz who did a content analysis of Roys’ open records request as part of research project, the public testimony on January 23, 2013—the only hearing held for AB1/SB1, the resurrected version released after Walker won the recall—counted 145 for the bill, 1,906 against.*

As opposition grew, so did coordinated campaigning between Walker and GTac. According to emails released as part of the second John Doe investigation, Walker instructed GTac to channel their $700,000 donation through Wisconsin Club for Growth, who could send it covertly straight into the Republican war chest to change the mining laws.

Bulletproof Security, operating illegally in Wisconsin. Photo: Rob Ganson

In July 2013, Gtac hired Arizona firm Bulletproof Security to protect their drill sites, who operated illegally in Wisconsin without proper permits and were forced to leave the state. Photo: Rob Ganson

The old Wisconsin law that GTac assured us they had no intention of changing was known as the Mining Moratorium or “Prove It First” law. The Senate-amended bill passed in the Assembly 91-6 in February, 1998 and included a “yes” vote from then-Rep. Scott Walker.

Signed by Tommy Thompson, that law required that any mining company planning on doing business in Wisconsin had to prove that they had the capacity and experience to do it right. Since GTac was only created as a limited liability corporation in late 2010 and has no experience or track record of mining iron ore, they surely would not have been able to obtain permitting under the old law. The coal mines operated by GTac founder Chris Cline have violated effluent standards in their wastewater permit 53 times over the past three years in Illinois.

Additionally, the old law would not have permitted a mine run by someone with known violations in previous operations (see photo above from January 2011: “Applicants environmental track record matters”). It was later discovered that Bill Williams was indicted for Spain for crimes against the environment while working at Cobre Las Cruces (CLC) mine in Seville. However, Act 1 changed the law to only include domestic violations. Williams gave the Spanish courts his deposition on September 7, 2010 and shortly afterwards left Spain for his new job with GTac in Wisconsin. Changing the old law to omit international violations was one more way they protected themselves at our expense.

Ms. Burke, there are so many reasons why we must repeal Act 1, and restore the previous “Prove It First” law, the least of which as the irrepairable damage GTac will do to our water, wildlife, air, economy and spirit. But clearly, our democracy has been hijacked, and justice must be restored as well.

January 23, 2013, rally during public hearing for AB1/SB1 at the Capitol.

January 23, 2013, rally during public hearing for AB1/SB1 at the Capitol. Photo: Erica Case.

As you come into the home stretch to the November 4th election, understand that we in the north are delivering a message to you, our next governor. This is not a favor we are asking. This is a directive we are giving you. We the People of northern Wisconsin, who are living to protect our water for the next seven generations, say there will be no mine. End of story.

Let’s start a new conversation about sustainable economies and strong democracies.

There will be no mine. Not for Scott Walker, not for you, not for anyone.

REPEAL & RESTORE.

There is no other way.

Kind Regards,

Barbara With

* From Meg Turvill-Heitz’ research:

Tally on open records materials from the January 23, 2013 public hearing on the mining bill (Wisconsin 2013 Act 1). Between about 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. that day, 1,976 separate testimonies were presented in person or via email to be registered to the committee and/or Sen. Tiffany as representative of the committee, representing 2,007 individuals (combed for duplicates — some letters were from couples, etc.).

An additional filing of testimony from 86 organizations representing an unknown number of people who did not testify in person were included in the filing I received, all of these organizations opposed the mining bill.

There were 1,047 emails (duplicates removed) sent to Sen. Tiffany, of them 6 individuals testified for the bill and 1,081 opposed it (the larger number represents some emails accounting for several people).

For in person testimony at the state capitol for the one hearing on AB1/SB1, 976 registered or testified (some were recorded as information only); 139 were for the bill, 825 against. Of these, 112 testified (41 for the bill, 65 against) and 864 registered testimony (some of these also testified) 98 for, 760 against.

Not accounting for the duplication of some who both registered and sent an email, the overwhelming numbers of contacts were opposed: 145 – 1906. Of note, while many of the emails requested “confirmation” of receipt by the committee based on advice from a widely reproduced Sierra Club mailing that went out in advance of the public hearing, I have evidence of only one follow-up contact from such an email; it stated there was no obligation for the committee to register the testimony sent by email, even though for many people the time and location made appearing in person impossible. 

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