Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gogebic Taconite's Clear Message: "We Can't Pass Reasonable Environmental Scrutiny"

In what appears to be a hardball-bargaining tactic or a flat-out admission that its proposed iron-mine in northern Wisconsin can't meet reasonable environmental standards and public scrutiny, Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams issued a statement late Tuesday saying the company was leaving the state because the Senate sent a "clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message."

The former will reveal itself to be chest-thumping and childish, "I'll take my ball and go home" should Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald Brothers ram this through in a special session, something Walker was advocating earlier this week.  The later is what William's statement appears to be really saying.

Scott Fitzgerald, Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader, former state chair of ALEC, current member/advocate, and member of the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force; had no choice but to pull the bill off Tuesday's (March 7, 2012) calendar and send it back to committee.  He did not have the votes needed to pass this bill.

Because the legislative session ends March 15th, getting a bill passed now will be problematic.  Fitzgerald claims the difficulties are because half the senators and all state representatives will be out campaigning for November's elections.

While the numbers of those up for November elections s true, it is curious and laughable to some that he didn't mention important elections that appear certain to happen before then, perhaps as soon as May - four Republican state senators including Fitzgerald himself,  Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch could face recall elections as soon as May or early June.  Recall elections had a major impact defeating Wisconsin's mining bill.

Given that virtually every other ALEC sponsored and supported legislation has been railroaded through the legislative process despite the fact that Walker's legitimacy as Governor is questionable given the ongoing John Doe investigation, defeating the mining bill, if things stand, is an amazing victory.

While mining-interest and other proponents misrepresent Taconite mining as safe and clean, this factsheet from the Sierra Club (downloadable/printable pdf) documents the negative environmental impact of all modern U.S. Taconite mines and some of the major violations and fines they have absorbed since 2004.

The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice has an outstanding set of resources online that more-fully explain the environmental racism underlying this bill and the many reasons that company written mining laws drafted specifically for that company's benefit, represent terrible public policy.  And the idea of privatizing environmental studies should outrage everyone and has no place in responsible public policy.

Most that fought this mining bill clearly and repeatedly stated:  They supported mining in Wisconsin.

Despite what certain shills in the media bray, the majority opposed to this bill were not against the mine.  The public opposed this legislation across party lines - Wisconsin's mining laws are reasonable, just, and widely supported by Wisconsin citizens.

Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar),  perhaps because he actually represents the area directly impacted by the proposed mine, summed up these issues best when he stated, "You cannot have responsible mining if you have irresponsible mining legislation,"

Wisconsin's current taxes on mining compare favorably with Minnesota and its approval process is not excessively overbearing, yet proponents continually point to Minnesota as a model for Wisconsin.  The foolishness of using our western neighbor as an example for success were most-clearly articulated by Shari Eggleson's testimony on behalf of Clean Wisconsin (Board Member) and the Sierra Club (Member), on January 11, 2012, when she stated:
The problem with using these states as models is that their taconite mines are chronic polluters whose operations have resulted in fines, cleanup orders and stipulations totaling just under $10 million in the last 8 years alone.  Under current regulations, taconite mining wastes in Minnesota and Michigan are currently exceeding discharge limits for mercury, selenium, sulfates.  Moreover, this bill goes farther to deregulate Wisconsin mining law than even Minnesota and Michigan.  
Bill Williams and Gogebic Taconite did not have to abandoned their mining process.  Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey analysis of state law shows it should take 2 1/2 to four years for the entire process.  Had they started this process in good faith more than a year ago instead of demanding and then taking more than a year to create, advocate, and then attempt to coerce the legislature to pass their law, they could reasonably have assumed to be mining BEFORE the time-lines in the bill they largely drafted - IF THEIR PROPOSAL WAS SAFE AND ON THE UP-AND-UP!

It was Bill Williams and Gogebic Taconite that had no confidence in their proposal, not the citizens of Wisconsin.  They knew that the mine was potentially an environmental disaster.  Gogebic Taconite and Bill Williams are only willing to go forward if special legislation exempts them from a reasonable process and releases them from liability should there be problems.

The real question here should be:  "Why do Williams and Gogebic Taconite believe they cannot pass public scrutiny and demonstrate that their proposal is safe, economically justifiable, and able to reasonably fulfill the many promises made by Walker and others on behalf of this mine?"

Note:  For more background information, this 16-page pdf from Wisconsin' Sierra Club contains more details and information as to how this legislation was created and shepherded through the legislature. 


Anonymous said...

So I walk into a car dealership and say to the salesman, "I'm kinda interested in this new model, but you'd have to work with me on the price." The salesman senses my ineest is genuine and says," Sure, But I have to tack on an extra fifteen hundred bucks..."

Do I buy the car?

Of course the mining bill was written to favor the mining company. It was a negotiation where they had the upper hand and asked for what they thought they needed to make the mine profitable. They didn't get it.

But lets not pretend this is about anything except preventing Walker from being able to create jobs and take some credit. Every other state has less restrictive mining laws currently on the books. And while mining is by its very nature a diry and destructive venture, the economic benefits would have been very great for the ordinary people of the area.

Is the Sierra Club going to give all these people jobs?


Anonymous said...

The External cost of that mine are to high. Yes, it might have put a few jobs on the table, but at what cost. The biggest long term asset of that region is tourism. What we know for sure, is now, in the Penokees, is a fish and wildlife factory as well as a water purification system that you couldn't buy or replace.
Yes, Free markets are a necessary for a prosperous economy, however, pollution does not have to be the price of prosperity. The environment can not be looked upon as an expendable recourse, to bear the brunt of mining’s external cost, with taxpayers left to clean up the mess.
It is our duty to protect these wild places as they are becoming more and more rare. To sacrifice the clean air, water, and beauty of the place is a bad social cost.

John A. Life of North Western Wisconsin.