Sides make case for, against mining bill at contentious public hearing

2013-01-24T05:30:00Z Sides make case for, against mining bill at contentious public hearingRON SEELY | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6131

From corporate officials who want to build a giant iron mine to northern high school students seeking jobs to tribal members and others worried about pollution, dozens of people spoke Wednesday at an emotional, contentious legislative hearing on proposed GOP changes to the state's mining law.

Early in the hearing, Bob Seitz, a lobbyist with Gogebic Taconite, said the company will apply for a mining permit if the GOP bill is passed.

Gogebic is the company that withdrew plans to build a $1.5 billion open pit iron mine near Ashland last year after failed mining legislation.

"If this bill or something similar is passed, we absolutely want to be here," Seitz said.

The GOP bill is similar to legislation defeated last session and would require the state Department of Natural Resources to act on a mining permit application within 480 days. It also makes changes to environmental rules, though proponents say the bill does not allow the DNR to issue a permit if a mine would cause pollution.

Many on both sides of the issue waited throughout the day and into the evening to testify. And many were critical of the committee for not holding a hearing in northern Wisconsin and for holding a single hearing on the broad changes proposed in the bill.

Late testimony was almost exclusively against the bill, causing an uproar from dozens of people waiting to speak when state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, abruptly adjourned the meeting at 9:06 p.m.

Democrats on the committee immediately called the hearing “insufficient” and asked Republicans to schedule a meeting in northern Wisconsin, but received no response.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, called Wednesday’s hearing “an astonishingly bad way to start what was supposed to be a transparent, bipartisan process.”

Clark also accused Republicans of stacking the early part of the hearing with mine supporters, before cutting off a large number of opponents at the meeting’s scheduled end time.

“We heard from some invited speakers, which was appropriate. But after that, they stacked the deck with a number of speakers that eloquently expressed their support for the mine. The testimony earlier in the day was not balanced,” he said.

Clark said he would ask the committee chairs for registrations to see how many people were not able to speak.

Among those who testified were several individuals from northern Wisconsin communities who said they want the jobs a mine would provide.

Rhonda Olkonen, a teacher from Hurley, broke down in tears as she described how her husband is now living in a trailer in North Dakota and working on a mine there, even though he would be qualified to work on a Wisconsin mine.

"It's not fair," said Olkonen.

Others who said they would welcome the mining jobs included four high school students from Hurley who said the lack of jobs in the area will force them to leave the community, even though they would prefer to stay.

But it became clear during the hearing that despite claims of proponents to the contrary, the GOP mining bill does change and in some instances reduces environmental protections that exist in current mining law.

Under questioning from state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and others, a spokesman for the Legislative Council, which analyzes bills, said exemptions to environmental standards allowed in the proposed bill are broader than those allowed in current law.

Also, Ann Coakley, a mining expert with the state Department of Natural Resources, said the bill does change air and water standards at the mine site.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and former DNR secretary, said the bill would allow wetlands to be destroyed, lakes to be filled in and groundwater to be withdrawn, despite threats to nearby wells.

Tiffany, who co-authored the bill, said during his testimony that the bill does not change any underlying air or water standards. He said the bill does allow the DNR to grant exemptions to standards but added that current law also allows such exemptions.

Those who testified against the legislation and the mine mostly said they are worried about the potential for pollution, especially if the law weakens environmental protections.

Members of the Wisconsin Chippewa bands were among the most outspoken against the bill and the proposed Gogebic mine. The large mine would be built at the headwaters of the Bad River, which nourish the rice beds on the Bad River Chippewa reservation at the headwaters on Lake Superior.

Mike Wiggins, chairman of the Bad River Chippewa, said tribal members were not consulted about the GOP bill even though the tribes are a sovereign nation with powerful treaty rights that could be invoked to halt a mine or challenge legislation.

"This bill is set to violate the treaties," said Wiggins.

Other tribal members also said they are prepared to challenge a mine in court. "We don't fight with bows and arrows anymore," said a Lac du Flambeau tribal member. "We fight with words in court."

From the opening gavel, the hearing proved as combative and as contentious as the mining issue itself. Hundreds of northern residents traveled to Madison for the hearing, some by chartered bus.

Democratic legislators loudly objected when Mary Williams, R-Medford, co-chairwoman of the joint committee holding the hearing, limited questions from committee members.

State Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, called the hearing a "kangaroo court."

Jauch, who was on the phone from Hawaii for the hearing because his daughter is getting married there, objected to the hearing being held in Madison rather than northern Wisconsin and said he has more access to the hearing from the middle of the Pacific than his northern constituents.

Early during the hearing, many comments and subsequent questions focused on potential changes in the bill to environmental standards.

— Jeff Glaze of the Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(44) Comments

  1. attypat
    Report Abuse
    attypat - January 25, 2013 12:28 am
    Dog man, Bob Jauch was at his daughter's wedding. I think they planned it before last Friday, when the sponsors of the iron mining "reform" bill announced that the only hearing would be five days later, over 400 miles from the mine site. I suspect it might have been done deliberately to tilt the questions even more in support of the bill than was done at the joint finance meeting last February. The testimony at the hearing in Hurley, as well as the testimony in West Allis and Madison last year, was overwhelmingly negative EVERY time. Maybe try reading the whole article next time. If wanting drinkable water is "pink," guilty, I guess. Try drinking taconite tailings some time, it didn't work so well in Duluth.
    Report Abuse
    GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN - January 24, 2013 3:47 pm

    The sky-is-falling enviro-whackadoodle Chicken Littles of the People's Republic of Makistan trying to tell the good folks in Iron County what is good for them is totalitarian centralized government overreach of the worst kind.

    Where is Sen. Bob Jauch after stirring the pot for political reasons for all this time?

    He's in Hawaii? Did the deep pocketed mining lobby pay for his trip just to silence him?

    No, just a coincidence.

    Get a grip you proggy paleo-lib watermelons ( green on the outside, kind of pink in the middle), we just want to poison YOUR air and water.

    Woofda !!!

  3. milton's fried man
    Report Abuse
    milton's fried man - January 24, 2013 2:40 pm
    hes dependent on governement for the roads, his secuirty, the low cost of insurance in a world with fire and police and about a million otehr things...
  4. milton's fried man
    Report Abuse
    milton's fried man - January 24, 2013 2:38 pm
    yet Tbagwobbler all those bus loads of people (including the mayor of washburn) coming down to speak against the mine certainly supports your position lol
  5. mzd
    Report Abuse
    mzd - January 24, 2013 2:14 pm
    Here's a quote from see

    "Commodity experts are forecasting that the world supply of iron ore will exceed the demand by 2015 as China's rate of economic growth slows down.

    In response to the forecasts, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., which recently appointed Wisconsin Mining Association president Tim Sullivan to its board of directors, announced in November it will at least temporarily shut down its Empire Mine operation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the second quarter of 2013, laying off 500 employees. Cliffs also is curtailing production at its Northshore Mining operation in Minnesota, affecting 125 employees."

    So what's the Wisconsin mining bill all about? I suspect it has little to do with the iron mine at all but is a smoke screen for relaxing oversight on other surface mines such as frac sand.
  6. pjh16
    Report Abuse
    pjh16 - January 24, 2013 12:03 pm
    WOW, lots of over exaggerated comments and posturing...what gets me is the the WI Legislature has an opportunity to craft something to be a leader in how a mine(s) could be developed with attempting to have as little enviromental impact as is hard to believe that a mine would have little or zero enviromental that region of the state the need for solid paying jobs is obvious...somehow they need to craft a bill that can accomplish open-ended agreement with whatever company that opens a mine and WORKS with the state to have the least impact possible...a bill that can be a work-in-progress while making the mining opportunity profitable for all parties concerned...this can be an opportunity, if done right to keep WI moving FORWARD!!! On Wisconsin!!!
  7. hankdog
    Report Abuse
    hankdog - January 24, 2013 7:36 am

    There are multiple changes in the new bill, anyone who redas it and compares it to the old could see that in a minute or two. Either you are so blinded by the political rhetoric that you don't want to believe that fact (read the DNR testimony), or you never read the bill. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts.

    I'll bet you a weeks pay, mine or yours, that if this bill is passed as written no mine will be opened for a minimum of 10 years. But then you would need to have a job to get paid. .
  8. fluteplayer
    Report Abuse
    fluteplayer - January 24, 2013 6:34 am
    Skippie, I don't know what bill you are looking at -- probably not the mining bill -- but AB1/SB1 is an environmental disaster. You are blowing smoke.
  9. skippie
    Report Abuse
    skippie - January 24, 2013 6:16 am
    Geo, you seem to be reading words that are not there. There are basically no changes to current state law. Giving the DNR over 400 days is strict enough. Our current laws make building a mine in Wisconsin harder than building one in many places on the planet. We need not make it even harder. Most people in the area support it.
  10. geo_
    Report Abuse
    geo_ - January 24, 2013 5:15 am
    So even Gogebic Taconite admits it's not viable financially or environmentally without changes to current state law. I wonder what other taxpayer funded subsidies they'll be seeking. What's with the confusion over the changes to the regulations, republicans are saying there are no changes to the environmental protections, yet those who know the environmental laws say there is, is the legislation(written by who?) to complicated for our republican majority to understand, or are they just plain lying to their constituants.
  11. BananaSplitz
    Report Abuse
    BananaSplitz - January 24, 2013 3:33 am
    Brought to you by the same folks who think it's ok to let raw sewage spill onto your property. Short term memory loss, anybody? Ask the folks in Concord how they liked them apples.
  12. Dante_in_Madison
    Report Abuse
    Dante_in_Madison - January 23, 2013 11:26 pm
    The people in Ashland are the ones that are going to take 100% of the waste downstream, so your point is moot.
  13. witness2012
    Report Abuse
    witness2012 - January 23, 2013 10:52 pm
    moyboy, ask yourself. Bob Jauch's expected absence for his daughter's wedding was known a long time in advance.

    This mining hearing was scheduled last Friday and despite the fact that this mine would occur in Jauch's district, they chose the one day that they knew he couldn't be here.

    Given this, why would you trust the committee chairs to be acting in 'good faith'?
  14. Solstice
    Report Abuse
    Solstice - January 23, 2013 10:31 pm
    They can pass the bill-- there will still be no mining in the Penokee range. The tribes have spoken. I'm happy to see solidarity between the Lac du Flambeau and the Bad River!
  15. 1blueheron
    Report Abuse
    1blueheron - January 23, 2013 10:10 pm
    Where does the iron go once it is mined? I would like to see it go into our infrastructure. But, my sense is that it will go straight to China, where the sponsors of this GOP group and the mining company are part of the lawless globalized economy that shipped jobs overseas, made people in NW Wisconsin desperate for jobs, and now leverages their advantage over citizens to do what they please with Wisconsin as they have done the past 50 years in all Third World Countries. Wisconsin is an illustration of how globalization and outside interest can turn a state whose motto was forward into a cultural dark ages for the further concentration of wealth. Thanks to gerrymandering this group only has to answer to corporate money - the same money with a 7 day a week network to teach you hatred of your Federal government and how to be oblivious to global corporate power in your backyard .Milton Friedman's economic doctrine that once toppled places like Chile, has arrived in Wisconsin. Moderate voices of reason like Senator Dale Schultz are out, the dismantling of human rights and environmental protections now underway. Short term greed and gain and myopia are in. The propaganda machine rolls on as human rights and the environment suffers. The social justice we did not care enough about the past 50 years has arrived. We need an awakening. In the meantime all they send us is more guns. They count on our conflict and lack of unity to topple laws. Do not be silent.
  16. Ben_Franklin
    Report Abuse
    Ben_Franklin - January 23, 2013 9:54 pm
    Let folks who live in the area decide their own fate.
  17. Petersoncm
    Report Abuse
    Petersoncm - January 23, 2013 9:39 pm
    If they are from Ashland and Bayfield, or Washburn they are in the mining area. Anyone on this part of Lake Superior is from the mining area. Geography spans far and wide.
  18. Petersoncm
    Report Abuse
    Petersoncm - January 23, 2013 9:37 pm
    You are dependent on government. You are depending on them to bring in this mine. We are all dependent on government one way or the other.
  19. Petersoncm
    Report Abuse
    Petersoncm - January 23, 2013 9:34 pm
    It's very easy for some of you who have no ties here to be so smug. I think we should dig the mine in your back yard, add an oil pipeline and also the big power lines and see what you think when you have to be the recipient of the poison and mess. They are taking land that is considered pristine, a gift of nature, and wanting to upturn it like a million giant molehills. What have we become in this nation that we have so little regard for our magnificent natural resources. Call me any name you want because I would rather be that than to be you.
  20. Big_Joe
    Report Abuse
    Big_Joe - January 23, 2013 9:33 pm
    Could be the rich mining heritage of Wisconsin had something to do with what the state is today. Ever look closely at the state seal?
  21. Big_Joe
    Report Abuse
    Big_Joe - January 23, 2013 9:28 pm
    Thanks, Nancy. You sound like an expert on mining.
  22. skippie
    Report Abuse
    skippie - January 23, 2013 8:58 pm
    Isn't and Feds get the final call as it is but that is not good enough for the libs. As one lib told me, all mines are bad.
  23. TheJudoon
    Report Abuse
    TheJudoon - January 23, 2013 8:50 pm
    Ahh -- Years of court battles coming your way at state taxpayer expense.
    Scott Walker -- #1 at making lawyers rich!
  24. hankdog
    Report Abuse
    hankdog - January 23, 2013 8:39 pm
    skippy-dip: There are right ways and wrong ways to do things. I'm not against mining, but Tiffany etal are sure going about this in a way that will make mining difficult or impossible to accomplish. They can pass all the bills they want, but unless they address concerns from the feds no mine will be built. DNR has even said that inntestimony last time.
  25. skippie
    Report Abuse
    skippie - January 23, 2013 8:21 pm
    liberals could care kess if kicaks wsnt the mine. Theu believe they are qualified to make decisions for others
  26. skippie
    Report Abuse
    skippie - January 23, 2013 8:18 pm
    why do libetals believe mining in Wisconsin is wrong and should never happen? Are they stupid or just ignorant?
  27. skippie
    Report Abuse
    skippie - January 23, 2013 8:12 pm
    why do libetals believe mining in Wisconsin is wrong and should never happen? Are they stupid or just ignorant?
  28. JakeWeery
    Report Abuse
    JakeWeery - January 23, 2013 7:46 pm
    Hearing opinions that differ from your own ideologically-driven beliefs is sickening?

    Big shocker there.
  29. Rosalie
    Report Abuse
    Rosalie - January 23, 2013 7:08 pm
    No filling in of lakes, stream and wetlands with the ton and tons of crushed sulfide rock they would have to remove to get at the iron!! Is the company agreeable to that?

  30. Tpartywarrior
    Report Abuse
    Tpartywarrior - January 23, 2013 6:07 pm
    Sorry, we just don't see it that every one should be dependent on government like you do.
  31. Tpartywarrior
    Report Abuse
    Tpartywarrior - January 23, 2013 6:05 pm
    I was at the circus today from 9am to 4:30. I heard all kinds of testimony about how this will NOT affect the environment. I heard all kinds of people who live in the area plead that they need the jobs as up north is becoming desperate.
    I heard from the same old tree-huggers whining about the same thng over, and over and over again. It was sickening!
    Build this mine, DO IT NOW!!!!
  32. human
    Report Abuse
    human - January 23, 2013 5:30 pm
    Someone at the hearing pointed out that the people who would benefit most from the mine live upstream from the mine site. If the mine ruins the water and damages the environment, it won't be their problem. The people who will bear the costs of any environmental problems, tend not to favor the mine.
  33. Retoother
    Report Abuse
    Retoother - January 23, 2013 4:32 pm
    Lefty rhetoric.
  34. knittingnancy
    Report Abuse
    knittingnancy - January 23, 2013 4:02 pm
    I read yesterday that a vote was taken and the mine was NOT favored by those who live there. Like most small town people, they probably vote republican. They also live there because they value the environment and clean water and like to fish. If you desire a job in mining, go where there are already mines and see how you like it. The turnover in workers is large so it will be easy to find work and let us know how long you actually last doing it.
  35. Retoother
    Report Abuse
    Retoother - January 23, 2013 2:36 pm
    I would bet most are not from the "mining area" but from Bayfield and Ashland (city).......that would be my guess and about 100% right on.
  36. Retoother
    Report Abuse
    Retoother - January 23, 2013 2:34 pm
    Millions? Try just over a million. A vast majority in the area of the mine ( I own land and am up there from May - Dec) are for the mine. FYI

    I have to laugh at you lefties......on one had you say Wis is last in job growth but then on the other say we are such a stable state that we do not get hit hard in recession years.

    So we are either doing fine in job growth because we did not lose many or we got hit hard in the recession? Which one is it?
  37. BananaSplitz
    Report Abuse
    BananaSplitz - January 23, 2013 2:20 pm
    Indeed, Mr. FriedMan! Excellent overview of death by a thousand cuts.
  38. BananaSplitz
    Report Abuse
    BananaSplitz - January 23, 2013 2:19 pm
    And your point other than to fault someone for attending the long-planned wedding for their daughter is???
  39. BananaSplitz
    Report Abuse
    BananaSplitz - January 23, 2013 2:18 pm
    Excellent points.
  40. thedude25
    Report Abuse
    thedude25 - January 23, 2013 2:06 pm
    Moyboy25 - Uh, it was Progressives like Robert La Follette and Russ Feingold who made Wisconsin what it is - a great place to live. If Wisconsin's laws are so economically terrible, why is every time the U.S. experiences an economic downturn, large or small, we are less hard hit than the national average? Early 80s, early 90s and this recent Great Recession - in all three Wisconsin fared better than than most other states. Yeah, sounds like real crappy economic policies to me.

    As far as the mine goes, three times the people of Wisconsin voted for these clowns in the last three years. They've made their bed. Now their gonna have to lie in it. Unfairly, I and millions of others who see this corporate take over of our wonderful state for what it is will too.
  41. PatrickL
    Report Abuse
    PatrickL - January 23, 2013 1:57 pm
    Sen. Jauch has been the voice of the people for many years, so don't be bad mouthing this dedicated leader. The bottom line is that people living in the affected area have major concerns. Why would bus loads of individuals travel to Madison (as they did last year) from the mining area to say no to this project. It might be a depressed area, but they also don't want a depressed area that is polluted by a mine that is deregulated. Plus, why are people who don't even live in the area making such a push for this project. This mine is not a few holes in the ground, but it could potentially be an open pit, that is over four miles long. I say take the time necessary to make this bill one that sets up the proper regulations. The lobbyists should not be the ones digging the hole that future generations will have to clean up.
  42. milton's fried man
    Report Abuse
    milton's fried man - January 23, 2013 1:40 pm
    the interesting thing is there is a great deal of evidence that the mine will never be built at all...rather they will pretend it could be profitable and provide jobs in hope of getting enough support weaking enviromental law and setting precident so they can do a whole lotof other nasty stuff i nthe name of short term profit....that or when this insane billl goes down after a copuple years legal challenges; walker can blame "liberals" for his inability to produce a single job during his tenure
  43. moyboy25
    Report Abuse
    moyboy25 - January 23, 2013 1:24 pm
    This great state would have never been built in the first place if it were up to leftist, liberal anti business, anti progress democrats.Jauch complaining from Hawaii? Laughable. He walked away from the people of northern Wisconsin during the last mining bill which would have benefited all of northern Wisconsin. Is is daughter getting married on a Thursday? Superior is turning into a ghost town like the rest of northern Wis.
  44. BananaSplitz
    Report Abuse
    BananaSplitz - January 23, 2013 12:47 pm
    In many places people can no longer drink water from the tap or see the stars in the sky due to pollution. Keep riding the rail straight to hell, people. We'll be next.

We provide a valuable forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on posted articles. But there are rules: Don't promote products or services, impersonate other site users, register multiple accounts, threaten or harass others, post vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language. Don't post content that defames or degrades anyone. Don't repost copyrighted material; link to it. In other words, stick to the topic and play nice. Report abuses by clicking the button. Users who break the rules will be banned from commenting. We no longer issue warnings.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Activate subscription button gif

What's hot

Vote! Today's poll


The Green Bay Packers are now the favorites to win the Super Bowl, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. How do you think they will fare this upcoming season?

View Results

Connect With Us



How will Scott Walker fare in the Iowa caucus?

View Results

Get daily email news alerts


First Name:

Last Name:

You might also like