On January 26, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed AB 426 along party lines. The bill, along with Wetlands Deregulation Bill AB 463, would grease the wheels for mining development in Wisconsin. A widely contested mine proposal in the Penokee Hills of Northern Wisconsin, put forth by the company Gogebic Taconite, has drawn attention and criticism to the bill. The Wisconsin State Senate will begin discussing the bill in committee, hoping to be ready to vote by March.
While AB 426 passed the Assembly through partisan support, the party lines are much more even in the Senate, thus requiring a more open and bipartisan approach to AB 426, which was drafted by Republicans and Gogebic Taconite. State Senator Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Mining Jobs, promised his committee would prepare a bill that the Senate could vote on by March. Kedzie, who attended Thursday's passage of AB 426, says he plans to involve such stakeholders as the Bad River Band of Chippewa and potentially affected communities in the formation of the bill.
“I have nothing critical to say of the Assembly Bill,” Kedzie said. “Now we have the opportunity to analyze the bill and see what would work best for us for Senate legislation ... We'll be looking for suggestions as far as changes.”
The bill’s main points of contention boil down to one facing several other situations, such as the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. The question is this: Are jobs now worth more than environmental, economical and social quality?
The Gogebic Taconite mine would generate an estimated $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to a report by NorthStar Economics, Inc. Not included in the analysis were fluctuations in the market value of iron (which has led to temporary shut-downs of similar mines in Minnesota) and destruction or degradation of the forest, wildlife and water resources in the region—all of which could have a major impact on the area’s main economic engine, tourism. Will the mine maintain infrastructure after it has closed?
Seven hundred jobs could be created—but at what costs? The answer: 71 miles of rivers and streams, damage to the United States' largest undeveloped wetland complex making up 40 percent of Lake Superior's wetlands, degradation of some of the largest wild rice beds in the world, potential issues with the Great Lakes Compact, and potential impact on the habitat of some 72 rare species, according to Nancy Langston of the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology and the Gaylord Nelson Institute of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The environmental review takes time to do, and if you are not going to provide adequate time to do it thorough, without doing the research and examining potential problems, there could be significant implications for environmental quality, for water quality and for air quality,” said Kevin Masarik, Groundwater Education Specialist at the Central Wisconsin Groundwater Center of the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point.
The environmental review process exists to analyze project proposals and find ways to prevent potential downsides—unfortunate occurrences, if you will. The question asked by the review process is basically, “What is the potential impact and how can it be avoided using preventative engineering and management?” Without a thorough review, citizens, communities, ecosystems and Planet Earth could be subjected to preventable degradation or damage.
As proposed, AB 426 “would outlaw citizen lawsuits both before the mine is approved, after the mine, and even after the mine is closed. So, what that means ... even if it were shown that the company, or an individual, or even a state employee, knowingly was negligent and caused significant harm to a community or individual, there would be no legal recourse,” Langston said.
For more information about this topic, visit our website (pointeronline.uwsp.edu), go to the News section, and check out “Environmental Groups Draw Connections Between Deregulatory Bill and Mining Project” by Michael Wilson and “Penokee Controversy” by Brian Luedtke.