This past Thursday, Wisconsin witnessed another new low. State Republicans in the Assembly fast tracked a pro-mining bill (AB 426) that will allow the out-of-state mining corporation Gogebic Taconite to create an open mining pit just south of the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa – a process that will inevitably damage the watershed and the beds where sacred manoomin (wild rice) grows.
In short, AB 426, if and when it passes the Senate, opens Wisconsin back up to mining – a significant change of events considering that the historic Wolf River campaign (1976-2003) had closed down the state to corporate mining interests when a Native and Non-Native alliance prevented a procession of multinational mining giants (EXXON, Rio Algom, and Billetonthe) from moving forward on the proposed Crandon Mine.
Not any more. AB 426 is a gift to corporate mining interests.
How bad is AB 426?
According to a report on the Clean Wisconsin website, the bill:
“-Removes citizens’ right to sue for illegal environmental damage by a mine. (pp. 20-21*)
-Removes all contested case hearings, which provide the only opportunity to challenge junk science and question mining officials on the record. (pp. 7, 10, 18)
-Only one required public hearing for the entire mining project, current law requires a minimum of three. (p. 10)
-Caps the amount a mining corporation must pay to the state for analyzing its permit, leaving the public to pay the remainder of the bill. (p. 16)
-Directs 40% of all mining tax revenues to the state, rather than to local governments for their investments in local infrastructure as local law requires. (pp. 17-18)
-Allows mining corporations to seek an end to their long-term responsibility for the mining site within 20 years rather than 40 years as required by current law. (pp. 24-25)
-Allows mining corporations to dump toxic mine waste into sensitive wetlands and floodplains. (p. 23)
-Allows mining corporations to contaminate the groundwater of neighboring properties. (pp. 33-34)
-Allows mining corporations to draw down water levels from rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater. (pp. 31-33)
-Significantly weakens wetland protections. (pp. 28-29)
-Allows iron mining law to supersede all other environmental regulations, unlike current law which gives deference to existing environmental laws, and unlike laws all other industry is subject to. (p. 18)
-Allows DNR to provide an exemption for a mining corporation from any requirements it sees fit. (p. 15)
-Allows DNR to issue a permit for a mine’s water withdrawals even if a company can’t protect the public, waterfront owners and the environment from damage, as long as the DNR determines that the public benefits of a mine “exceed any injury to public rights.” (pp. 31-33)
-Instead of requiring mines to comply with all rules on air, groundwater, surface water, and solid and hazardous waste management; the bill merely requires the company to be “committed” to complying with those laws. (p. 14)
-Changes the standard for protecting public health, safety and welfare from the protective “will not” cause harm to the subjective “is not likely” to cause harm. (p. 7)
-Requires the DNR to allow mining waste to be placed in areas even where it is has determined that there is a “reason- able probability that the waste will result in a violation of surface water or groundwater quality standards.” (p. 23)
-Eliminates requirement that water level measurements and groundwater sampling be submitted to DNR (p. 24)
Ground zero is in northern Wisconsin and in the State Capital Building in Madison. On Thursday, Mike Wiggins, Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, stated, “This bill represents corporate interests over the rights of citizens and over the interests of clean air and water. Our fight has just begun. We are just like that Penokee Mountain. We’re not going anywhere. We will use every tool in our war chest to defend our water and air.”
To learn more and to support the anti-mine movement in Wisconsin, see:
Also check out the “Fight Back in Wisconsin” section from The Progressive magazine website. To read about the events that transpired on Thursday, check out Rebecca Kemble’s article here. Also check out Lane Hall’s reporting in the Daily Kos here.
To learn more about past struggles against mining interests in Wisconsin, see the interview that I did with artist/activist Susan Simensky Bietila where she talks about the creative resistance employed during the late stages of the Crandon Mine movement.
And to see Sam Morris (a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe) removed from the State Capital for drumming and protesting against the bill this past Thursday, see:
I would add that this is a major assault on hard won Treaty Rights. One of the victories in Wisconsin was recognition that Tribes have the power to set standards for the water purity both on reservations and in the ceded territories, where they have the right to fish and hunt and gather.