Lobbyists push for repeal of mining 'moratorium'

2012-11-18T07:00:00Z 2013-03-07T16:35:52Z Lobbyists push for repeal of mining 'moratorium'RON SEELY | Wisconsin State Journal | rseely@madison.com | 608-252-6131 madison.com

Lobbyists are pushing the state Legislature to take mine permit reform further and repeal the state's 15-year-old "moratorium" on mines that produce polluting acids.

Last session's failed mining reform efforts focused only on iron mines as opposed to operations that would remove metals such as gold, copper, zinc and silver. Unlike in iron mining, the processing of such base metals requires the use of chemicals and exposes surrounding sulfide minerals to air and water, which can create potent, polluting acids.

Because of such environmental threats, Wisconsin in 1997 passed a mining moratorium law that requires companies seeking permits for metallic sulfide mines to produce evidence of similar mines that operated safely and have been shut down and reclaimed for 10 years without polluting.

Passage of the law during the debate over a proposal by Exxon Minerals to build a mine near Crandon was considered a landmark victory for environmentalists. They consider the legislation to be a crucial part of the state's mine regulations.

"It was critically important," said Keith Reopelle, who works on environmental policy for Clean Wisconsin and was involved in the fight to pass the moratorium. "It really shaped mining policy in Wisconsin, to this day."

Mining advocates, however, view the moratorium as an unnecessary roadblock to more mining and the jobs they say mining would bring.

"We would take the stand that if the moratorium went away, that would be a very significant signal to mining companies," said Ron Kuehn, a lobbyist who represents Aquila Resources, an international mining company that actively explored two potential sites in northern Wisconsin: a gold deposit in Marathon County and a gold and copper deposit in Taylor County.

GOP opportunity

The recent election that gave Republicans control of both the state Senate and Assembly provides an opportunity to push harder to ease regulations for mining companies, Kuehn said.

State Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, a key player on mining issues, said it is apparent from early discussions on changes in mining regulations that Republicans are planning to attack the moratorium.

"I think that clearly is the direction they're going to go," Jauch said.

Jauch said the move would be controversial and added that separate legislation aimed at removing the moratorium may make it more difficult to garner bipartisan support for a new version of last session's failed mining bill.

That earlier bill was prompted by a proposal from Gogebic Taconite to build a $1.5 billion open pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

The company said such a mine could employ 700. A company official said Gogebic Taconite is no longer interested in the site after the state Senate failed to pass the bill.

State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who heads a committee studying changes to mine permitting, said efforts to create a new mining permit reform bill have been going smoothly. He intends to hold a meeting of the committee on Nov. 29 at which the Wisconsin Mining Association will present the results of a new consultant's study comparing Wisconsin's permitting process to other states.

Cullen said that will be followed in coming weeks by a public meeting at which the committee will begin writing a bill. He said such a bill would create a more definitive timeline for the state to permit a mine while keeping in place environmental protections.

Flambeau decision

State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who was elected Senate Majority Leader last week, said mining is a priority and added he is hopeful a bipartisan permitting bill can be fashioned.

He was more circumspect about any action on the moratorium and said he has not heard of any specific efforts to bring forth legislation on the issue.

Kuehn said efforts to repeal the moratorium were prompted by a decision last summer in which federal Judge Barbara Crabb praised the operation of a now closed copper and zinc mine near Ladysmith.

In a decision prompted by a challenge from environmental groups, Crabb ruled that while Flambeau Mining Co. technically violated federal clean water laws, the discharges that were the subject of the lawsuit were slight and the company deserved "commendation, not penalties" for its operation.

The open pit mine operated from 1993 to 1997 and was reclaimed after its closure. The moratorium law requires a mining company seeking a permit to cite an example of a mine that operated safely for 10 years and has been closed for 10 years.

Technically, the mine, having operated for only five years, would not meet the first part of the requirement.

And environmentalists charged the closed mine did leak pollutants into a stream that feeds the Flambeau River, even though Crabb downplayed the pollution as minor and fined the company just $275.

Even so, the Crabb decision is being cited by Kuehn and others as reason to seek action on the moratorium.

"The logical step," Kuehn said, "is to ask the Legislature to take a look at the Flambeau decision. The moratorium says a company has to prove a mine was successfully closed for 10 years. Curiously, the best example of that we know of is right here in Wisconsin. That's our reading of it."

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(31) Comments

  1. 196ski
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    196ski - November 20, 2012 6:20 pm
    Mining companies and the contract blasting companies are responsible for any damage done by fly rock. If a company is generating that kind of fly rock then the State Department of Commerce should get involved. Their are industry standards for blasting near residential dwellings. I am unfamiliar with the class action suits you mention so I have no idea as to their merit.

    Are you referring to the Enbridge Energy oil pipeline spill? 1,200 barrels. Not sure what that has to do with mining. Perfection is not going to happen. There are going to be incidents no matter how careful we are. Again, are you suggesting hunter-gatherer mode? Because anything sort of that is going to impact the environment in a negative way. This is what YOU, Me, and the rest of the world demands. You don't get to sit in judgement when you are just as guilty as the rest of us in expecting a standard of living that is dependent on mined minerals.
  2. Queequeg
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    Queequeg - November 20, 2012 10:43 am
    Au contraire! We live near plain old rock quarries and they get away with just about everything including: Rock missiles damaging nearby homes; Destruction of residential wells without recompense.... Why, because we wouldn’t want to damage the local economy! The homeowners did class action suits but lost after years of paying lawyers to battle. P.S. How is that oil spill clean up, south of Wausau, proceeding? Friend, you might know the law, but not much about real life.
  3. 196ski
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    196ski - November 19, 2012 8:08 pm
    ""Yeah we gotta have mining for jobs"People, get off your soap box and open your eyes to what is happening before it is too late to go back."

    Too late to go back to what? Hunter-gatherer mode? Complaining about mining when your life and lifestyle depend on mining is a more than a little hypocritical don't you think?

    Seriously I read the negative comments about mining and wonder where people live, work, how they travel, communicate and function in this State. Mining is deeply engrained in our society, we depend on mined products for everything. Why are we okay with say an auto assembly plant but not okay with where the materials that go into those autos come from?

    Modern mining is as environmentally responsible as it can be. Make no mistake, it changes the environment forever. If done in the US, that means when the mine is finished the land is returned to a changed, but natural state.
  4. 196ski
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    196ski - November 19, 2012 7:33 pm
    Already in place.
    Wisconsin reclamation law requires an approved and bonded reclamation plan be in place before the first shovel of dirt is turned. A good law.
  5. Queequeg
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    Queequeg - November 19, 2012 3:19 pm
    Demand a treble damages deposit before the first truck arrives. Turn half over to a Morgan-Stanley Financial Adviser in WI who normally does FA for the middle-middle-class and the other half to an Edward Jones equivalent. When the mine finishes and is totally cleaned up, return the proceeds and profit.
  6. kayge1
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    kayge1 - November 19, 2012 1:05 pm
    When I hear talk like 196ski, I've got to ask "what is so wrong with requiring proof that a company is ethical and environmentally sound before it begins a project?" just at the proposed mine in the Penoke's... the company wouldn't even apply for a permit until the mining regulations are wekened..talls you something about the plans for the future mine.
    The citizens are being railroaded by the promise of jobs. Look at Ladysmith, is that town any better for having had this mine? yeah, they got a new firetruck out of the deal...
    I think it is naive to allow any sort of big corporation to come in (in the name of potential JOBS) without first considering the long term effects on the people who have to live there. Plus, the whole "mining district" creation changes the whole nature of the beast. Look at what is happening on the West side of this state with the rapuid proliferation of SAND mines... pretty soon the whole west side of Wisconsin will be strip mined.
    "Yeah we gotta have mining for jobs"People, get off your soap box and open your eyes to what is happening before it is too late to go back.
  7. MadCityYokal
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    MadCityYokal - November 18, 2012 8:33 pm
    Money over people's health, Baby. Money trumps each time.
  8. Saltyned
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    Saltyned - November 18, 2012 7:30 pm
    Republicans always pull out the old " These jobs are needed line ". That's code for we need to rape the environment and line our pockets. Go back to the rock you craweled out from under! Your finished! Ten more years of fat white boys, that's what I give them.
  9. Wisconsin Citizen
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    Wisconsin Citizen - November 18, 2012 4:08 pm
    The only opinion that matters on this and any other State of Wisconsin issue is how that of the citizens of Wisconsin. Lobbyists should be shown the door on this and all other issues. How will repealing mining protections affect any and all of Wisconsin Citizens? That is the question.
  10. 196ski
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    196ski - November 18, 2012 2:34 pm
    "Profit is the only reason such companies are in business in the first place. ...and MINING is a dirty business."

    Not true. Sigh.

    The reason those companies are in business is because YOU, we, all of us, demand the products that come from mining. Pretty sanctimonious of you to preach about the evils of mining while doing so on a computer that were manufactured with components that were mined all over the world. And tomorrow you'll ride or drive to work in a vehicle made from iron ore that may have come from the UP. And then work in a building made from that same Iron ore. It is in every aspect of your life and yet you don't want it done in your backyard.

    Take a ride to Marquette and see how much people resent Cliffs. Hint, they don't. Or the three new mines that are being developed. They represent jobs and income where none would otherwise be. Tourism? Dying in Northern Wisconsin. Great time to buy a resort, nice selection and discounted prices.
  11. akakao
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    akakao - November 18, 2012 1:58 pm
    Damage done by mining, unfortunately, is permanent ....go anywhere in the country where mining has left its mark and you will find devastation, much of it invisible i.e. groundwater contamination. I always find wicked amusement in mining companies and their proponents citing "job creation" as their driving force. Profit is the only reason such companies are in business in the first place. ...and MINING is a dirty business. After being up close and personal during the Rio Tinto Zinc/ Kennecott et al and their bullying and successful efforts to build a mine on the banks of the Flambeau River in Ladysmith, I am not hopeful that citizens will be a match for the new onslaught by the extraction industry. I hope I"m wrong.
  12. blkdog
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    blkdog - November 18, 2012 11:19 am
    lobbyists, go home. don't ruin our state with a mining disaster. do something positive; solar power; wind power. create jobs that way, not by wrecking our beautiful wisconsin.
  13. Dick Dastardly
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    Dick Dastardly - November 18, 2012 9:31 am
    Note to Governor Walker, Senate Majority leader Voss and House Majority Leader Suder. Please do review and replace the existing restrictive and job killing policy and laws now in place to more accurately align with the needs of workers, employers and the environment. Please encourage good mining practices while bringing jobs to Wisconsin. The northern counties in Wisconsin need those jobs. The minerals are there. We need to mine them and we need to use due regard to the quality of the land.

    Happy Thanksgiving. We live in a rich state.

  14. mhaz
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    mhaz - November 18, 2012 9:12 am
    Future Wisconsin vacation: Go up North,look at huge hole in the ground, drink toxic water, go home. Brought to you by tea party republicans who will arrest federal heath officials crossing Wisconsin borders...
  15. RightForWisconsin
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    RightForWisconsin - November 18, 2012 9:00 am
    Mining, no matter what is promised, will leave scars on Wisconsin for generations.

    Ask the folks in Kewaunne how a few jobs now has left them with a nuclear headache forr thousands of years.

    The "conservatives" like to talk about "kicking the can down the road" well this is prime example of passing our current job "problem" down the road for our children to deal with.

  16. WorkersVoice
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    WorkersVoice - November 18, 2012 12:12 am
    Ron, Interesting article- note one error in paragraph two referring to mining 'other metals'-
    "Unlike in iron mining, the processing of such base metals requires the use of chemicals and exposes surrounding sulfide minerals to air and water, which can create potent, polluting acids" Sulfuric acid is formed when sulfide minerals in the rock combine with air and water. It has nothing to do with which metal you are extracting (of course the additional chemicals used for other metals only make the contamination worse) The proposed Penokee Mine would have had to go through a layer of rock known to contain sulfide minerals (USGS, 2008). Once these minerals are extracted from the rock, they interact with oxygen and water, and sulfuric acid is formed. This sulfuric acid, once in the groundwater leaches heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and lead-into the drinking water. No mine yet has demonstrated that it is able to prevent 'acid run off'. So, depending on the hydrology, that would mean that potentially all of the residents in the Bad River watershed could have polluted wells-meaning lower property values, and having to import water for decades past the duration of the mine (which G-tac projected to be 40 years). The first phase of the mine would be over the aquifer that supplies water to Ashland. While I don't live in the area-I live in a county that has other minerals which would be affected by the mining bill. I would prefer that the DNR get all of the time they need to do the geology and hydrology studies they need to to protect the drinking water. Jobs are great and much needed-but the health consequences of heavy metals are a steep price to pay. I hope you continue to bring attention to this critical health issue so that the public and legislators alike can make decisions based on sound health information.

    Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/environment/lobbyists-push-for-repeal-of-mining-moratorium/article_59f6c3cc-30d3-11e2-bffc-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz2CY9GK4wK
  17. thedude25
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    thedude25 - November 17, 2012 11:17 pm
    And so it begins. Wisconsin, you voted for this. Hope you like the results. bk, I agree with your first post.
  18. 196ski
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    196ski - November 17, 2012 9:37 pm
    This is also false. They would bring in some for startup but especially in the case of iron ore mines the workers would be local. Most of the jobs are unskilled labor with very good ($20+/hr) wages. This can be confirmed by looking at the workers in mines in MN and MI.

    I can tell you from first hand experience that the hourly and management live in the area around the mines. Mines in the UP and MN employ people from the community. Because much of the work is outside, the employees tend to be outdoorsman. As a result they are engaged in the mines environmental compliance, I say that with first hand experience.

    So I guess you would now support a mine :)

    "I would also support a law stating that if it is mined in Wisconsin, it is manufactured in Wisconsin, and the end product is bought and sold in Wisconsin. And if any of it leaves Wisconsin, it is taxed to the buhJeezus"

    What about all of the mined products that are imported into Wisconsin? And remember if you didn't grow it it came from a mine. Mining is the price that we pay for the standard of living that we have. The advantage to mining in the United States is that even though the environment is changed, the environment is protected to a much higher degree than it is in most of the rest of the world.
  19. 196ski
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    196ski - November 17, 2012 9:12 pm
    "Do we want to damage even more of the state with needless iron mining when recycling could replace the small amounts of metals needed just for short term greed?"

    This is false. Recycling reduces the amount of iron ore needed for steel production but it does not even come close to eliminating the need for iron ore. If it did we wouldn't have expansion and active mining that is taking place in Minnesota and the UP.
  20. knittingnancy
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    knittingnancy - November 17, 2012 8:41 pm
    A major concern for the US is first of all: clean food and water. Mines will forever contaminate both farmland, if it is friable land, and water We are already seeing lung damage from silicone where fracking sand is being mined in western WI. Those who refused to mine sand are being affected badly against their will. Do we want to damage even more of the state with needless iron mining when recycling could replace the small amounts of metals needed just for short term greed? Not all of our citizens can just pack up and leave or came from other states and have few ties to Wisconsin or care what happens to its longterm residents. Few in Walker's administration care for tribal interests or even that of the other residents of the state. If they had, there would have already been laws for sandmining instead of letting small towns try to deal with out of state big business ripoffs.
  21. bk
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    bk - November 17, 2012 8:04 pm
    Unfortunately, the workers would overwhelmingly be imported from other states... or countries... Not that I don't want them here, but it does little to improve Wisconsin's employment/unemployment numbers. I'd be more likely to support mining if people that currently live in Wisconsin were the ones that would get these "excellent paying jobs, 'usually' union..."

    I completely agree with your remarks regarding "Who would support a law..." I would! I would also support a law stating that if it is mined in Wisconsin, it is manufactured in Wisconsin, and the end product is bought and sold in Wisconsin. And if any of it leaves Wisconsin, it is taxed to the buhJeezus.

    And I still say that those down wind and down stream should be offered 10 times current property values should they wish to run like hell from the effects/potential effects of the mine. And that lobbyists, CEOs and those in line to profit from the mine live in the communities most likely to be effected by the mines as I stated in my original post on this topic. Those are the buggers that are truly saying, "Not in my back yard."
  22. 196ski
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    196ski - November 17, 2012 7:22 pm
    I worked as an environmental engineer for a mining company in Wisconsin and this is a tough call.

    We only get one shot at mining an area, if it isn't done correctly it creates an environmental nightmare. The flip side is that the citizens of Wisconsin demand mined products every day. It's hypocritical to demand these products without a second thought as to where they come from, provided it isn't in our back yard. I have a hard time with that one.

    Who would support a law in Wisconsin that prohibited products from being sold in our State unless they came from a mine or company that had a 10 year history of 100% environmental compliance? That would be consistent with our current metallic sulfide mining laws. What we could buy would be very, very expensive.

    Rio Tinto's Eagle mine on the shores of Lake Superior in the UP has taken a very aggressive and novel approach to environmental compliance. They are funding an INDEPENDENT environmental engineering company to monitor Rio Tinto's compliance and make public their findings on an ongoing basis. Maybe Wisconsin could look at a similar proposal for ensuring compliance.

    Mining provides excellent paying jobs, usually union, with all the fringes and benefits. Provided the local residents were in favor, mining would provide a much needed economic boost in Northern Wisconsin.
  23. Birch Tamsin
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    Birch Tamsin - November 17, 2012 6:58 pm
    This is a great story to debate. For example - mines produce water contamination, but so do non-organic farms, and so do some organic farms. Livestock facilities produce water pollution as well. The question is always where to we draw the line on pollution? Cars pollute, and before cars, horses littered the streets with manure.

    I'm guessing the DNR ought to weigh in on this with a cost-benefits study. Adverse affects on rare/endangered plants and animals should be balanced against the benefits of the jobs, profits, and tax revenue created by the mine. Tribal leaders and members should also be consulted if their land/hunting/fishing rights are at stake.

    There may be reasonable alternatives to mining as well. For example, increased recycling of existing, but worn out, cooper items such as wiring. A company in Pennsylvania is "mining" landfills for plastic, and converting that plastic into industrial grade crude oil at a profit. Perhaps the same approach could be used for metal reclaimation?

    Your thoughts are appreciated.
  24. Rosalie
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    Rosalie - November 17, 2012 6:47 pm
    What personal attacks, HW? I see only yours.

    BTW, it's "LOSE" an argument, not "LOOSE" (sic) one.
  25. Malamom
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    Malamom - November 17, 2012 5:37 pm
    bk speaks the truth. Fact- Every mine in the entire world that created acids (sulfide mining) has polluted its neighborhood and waterways. That's science.... and a very sad experience for the people of the area.
  26. iponder
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    iponder - November 17, 2012 5:35 pm
    Robin Vos and the boys only listen to lobbyists and money. Citizens dont matter any more. Does anyone have a photo of Vos skinny dipping at Mazo beach?
  27. Mattila
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    Mattila - November 17, 2012 5:21 pm
    BK, beautiful post ( first one ). Thank you!
  28. bk
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    bk - November 17, 2012 4:49 pm
    PS, I offered neither information nor facts in my original post. Neither did I attack any persons or people.

    What's your agenda?
  29. bk
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    bk - November 17, 2012 4:48 pm
  30. HW
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    HW - November 17, 2012 4:38 pm
    Actually bk some do but go ahead and continue with the rhetoric and misinformation. And when you loose the argument based on facts, please continue with the personal attacks.
  31. bk
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    bk - November 17, 2012 4:28 pm
    Maybe I'd be all for this if these same lobbyists and the CEOs of the mining companies would pay ten times the current property value to anyone who would accept, AND THEN live just downwind and down stream of the mines they are proposing and/or are in line to profit from. Just MAYBE.

    I mean LIVE IN not just OWN. LIVE IN.

    And they must drink from the same groundwater as everybody else and breathe the same air and raise their kids there too.

    Otherwise, please kindly go f(_)<K yourselves.

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