Defending our Heritage of Strong Mining Laws

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Sulfide mining practices have long destroyed important, pristine, and sacred lakes, rivers, forests, and wetlands across the country. In Wisconsin, we’ve seen our fair share of irreversible damage to our water, communities, and local ecosystems because of sulfide mining.

Thankfully, because of the foresight of our lawmakers nearly 20 years ago, Wisconsin has protected our water, landscapes and communities from irresponsible and damaging sulfide mining practices through the Prove It First Mining Law, otherwise known as the Mining Moratorium.

Now, in 2017, some legislators and mining companies want to roll back those protections.

The Damaging Reality of Sulfide Mining

Mining for metals like gold, copper, and zinc, are highly destructive to the nearby waters and ecosystems. In order to access a small amount of these precious metals, a large amount of waste rock is extracted, which contain sulfides. When its exposed to water and air, it creates sulfuric acid, which then leaches from the mine site into the groundwater and nearby rivers and lakes, turning the water bright orange.

The result: tainted groundwater, destroyed ecosystems, and poisoned communities.

This is called Acid Mine Drainage (AMD), and is the damaging legacy of sulfide mines. In fact, sulfide mines are near-perfect in their record of polluting nearby waters and the environment. In fact, the mining industry has not recorded one mine that has operated and closed without polluting the environment. 

Acid Mine Drainage turns vibrant rivers, lakes, and wetlands into ecological dead zones, causing them to run orange. Credit: Nathaniel Warner, NSF

Number of sulfide mines in U.S. documented by mining industry that show no signs of polluting the environment

Health Impacts of Sulfide Mining

In addition to damaging the environment, sulfide mining negatively affects the health and wellbeing of local communities near the mines. Six of the World Health Organization‘s top 10 toxins of public concern are tied to sulfide mining, including:

  • Mercury (resulting from AMD)
  • Lead (resulting from AMD)
  • Arsenic (resulting from AMD)
  • Cadmium (resulting from AMD)
  • Asbestos (released into the air during mining)
  • Particulate air pollution (released into the air during mining

Sulfide mining exposes our kids, communities, and water to damaging toxins and pollution, with the health problems that result from exposure. And once they end the operation and leave, the communities and taxpayers nearby are left in poor health to bear the burden of cleaning up the mess.


Percentage of all toxics released in US by metallic mining, 2015

Source: US EPA Toxics Release Inventory, 2015 National Analysis


Percentage of all Mercury released in US by metallic mining, 2015

Source: US EPA Toxics Release Inventory, 2015 National Analysis

The Prove It First Mining Law

In 1998, the Wisconsin State Legislature overwhelmingly passed the Prove It First Mining Law, and it was then signed into law by then-Governor Tommy Thompson as 1997 Act 171. The law requires that any company wishing to open and operate a sulfide mine in Wisconsin must show proof of a similar sulfide mine that has operated and been closed for 10 years without polluting the environment as a part of the permitting process. To this day, there have been no sulfide mines that meet this criterium that have been documented by the mining industry.

Wisconsin’s landmark Prove It First Mining law has been held up as example for the country for its protections of water and land resources.

“There are no ideal metallic mineral mining sites which can be pointed to as the model approach in preventing acidic drainage industry-wide.”

Wisconsin DNR Bureau of Solid & Hazardous Waste Management Report

Presented to Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, 1995 (Updated 1997) , "An Overview of Mining Waste Management Issues in Wisconsin"

Coming Up: the Industrial Acid Mining Bill

Some legislators and mining companies want to roll back Wisconsin’s common-sense protections from damaging sulfide mining. State Senator Tom Tiffany (Hazelhurst) is planning on introducing a bill this fall that would, by all estimations, repeal the Prove It First law and expose Wisconsin–its kids, communities, and special places–to the irreversible damage from sulfide mining. Aquila Resources, a Canadian mining company, has set it’s sights on the mineral deposits in northern Wisconsin.

Senator Tiffany’s Industrial Acid Mining Bill is bad for Wisconsin’s families, communities, water, and landscapes.

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