One year ago today, March 11, 2013, Governor Scott Walker signed into law Act 1, the ferrous mining bill that was written by Gogebic Taconite (GTac) and financed by over $1 million in political contributions to Republican legislators.
GTac’s proposed open pit iron mine is one of the world’s largest (4.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide and up to 1,000 feet deep) and sits at the headwaters of the Bad River watershed which flows into Lake Superior and provides drinking water for the city of Ashland and nearby towns. Despite overwhelming opposition from citizens around the state, a lack of local support, and the obvious danger the bill posed to the safety and sustainability of the northwoods economy, environment, and democracy, Walker signed it anyway.
Due diligence provisions, fundamental to the previous legislation and key to protecting the public’s right to clean water, were removed from the new law. Prior law stipulated that “significant adverse impacts” to the environment and water were assumed to be “unnecessary.” The new law assumes that “significant adverse impacts are necessary” to the environment as a result of mining.
Worth noting: Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), the main sponsor of the controversial bill, stated that this change was made so that “If the law is challenged and ends up in court, the judge needs to know it was the Legislature’s intent to allow adverse (environmental) impacts. That way, a judge can’t find fault if the environment is impacted.”
The scientific integrity of the mine permitting process was called into serious question last December when the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed the DNR that it couldn’t work together on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because the standards established in the new mining law don’t conform to the Corps’ established review standards to protect our water and our environment. The Corps will not be limited by the shortened timeframes in the new mining law.
Last month, the Seville Office of the Environment in Spain formally filed written charges, similar to an indictment, against GTac President Bill Williams for arsenic contamination of an aquifer while he was Director of Mining for the Spanish mining firm, Cobre Las Cruces. The aquifer near Seville was reserved for irrigation and human consumption in times of drought.
Mr. Williams’s behavior in Spain raises serious concerns about the possible contamination of the Kakagon and Bad River coastal wetlands where the Bad River Ojibwe Tribe maintains the largest natural wild rice bed in the Great Lakes basin. This wetland complex on Lake Superior has been called “Wisconsin’s Everglades.”
Finally, the Iron Mining law exempts iron mining from Wisconsin’s “Prove it First” Sulfide Mining Moratorium despite geological evidence that a portion of the ore and waste material of this deposit contains sulfides capable of producing acid mine drainage and poisoning local water supplies with dissolved toxic metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead.
It is time for Wisconsin citizens to demand the repeal of Act 1, as well as Act 118, the wetlands law that goes hand in hand with it. Repeal Act 1, and make mining companies abide by Wisconsin’s “Prove it First” legislation, which requires that the industry show where they have mined in a sulfide orebody without causing pollution before they can receive a mining permit in Wisconsin. Insist on verified proof; don’t settle for anything less. Future generations will thank you.
Al Gedicks of LaCrosse is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.