Bill could allow environmentally destructive water withdrawals prohibited by Compact

MADISON — The Assembly Mining Bill unveiled late last week would create new standards for permitting high-capacity wells that would likely create a conflict with the Great Lakes Compact, a historic agreement between eight Great Lakes States and two Canadian Provinces to protect the water in the Great Lakes.

“Wisconsin was a leader in passing the overwhelmingly popular Great Lakes Compact, which establishes important standards that protect the water in our magnificent Great Lakes,” says Amber Meyer Smith, director of government relations at Clean Wisconsin. “By establishing new standards that force the DNR to permit environmentally destructive water withdrawals, the proposed mining bill would create a conflict with the Great Lakes Compact that would likely lead to legal challenges.”

Whereas the Great Lakes Compact prevents any water withdrawals in the Great Lakes basin that would result in significant adverse environmental impacts, the proposed mining bill would require the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to issue a withdrawal permit if it “determines that the public benefits resulting from the mining operation exceed any injury to public rights.” The bill goes on to say that “[i]n making this determination, the department shall recognize that the withdrawal and use of the waters of the state in connection with mining is in the public’s interest and welfare and fulfills a public purpose…” (LRB 3520/1 – Page 146)

“The passage of this bill would likely create a situation where the DNR would be required to deny a permit under the Great Lakes Compact, but approve a permit under state statute,” says Smith. “Either the authors of the bill do not understand the standards set in the Great Lakes Compact, or they are trying to stealthily circumvent these important Great Lakes protections.”

Gogebic Taconite’s proposed iron mine in Northern Wisconsin would use as much as 41 million gallons of water each day according to estimates, more than the daily water use for the entire city of Madison. The use of such large quantities of water could lower water levels in nearby lakes, as well as rivers and streams that flow into Lake Superior.

“Creating conflicts with the Great Lakes Compact is only one major problem in a bill filled with major problems,” says Smith. “This dangerous bill would roll back environmental protections, silence the voice of the public, and eliminate accountability for mining corporations. It stands in conflict to the interests of Wisconsin residents and should be quickly rejected by legislators.”