MADISON — A 186-page bill released yesterday seeks to fast-track iron mine projects in Wisconsin by making the expansion of mining a state policy, slashing opportunities for public input and eliminating environmental protections.
“This bill was written by the mining industry to gut the environmental review and public input process for proposed mines,” said Katie Nekola, attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “It serves the interests of wealthy out-of-state mining developers who contribute heavily to political campaigns at the expense of Wisconsin’s Northwoods.”
The bill would allow dumping toxic mine waste in floodplains, near rivers and lakes, and near the boundaries of neighboring properties. It would eliminate the requirement that the application includes an assessment of the risks of soil erosion, flooding, pollution of ground or surface water, damage to public health or threats to public safety.
In a telling statement, the bill admits that “it is probable that mining those deposits will result in adverse impacts to areas of special natural resource interest and to wetlands.” The bill includes a “legislative finding” that this environmental destruction is “presumed to be necessary.”
“Mining companies know that their operations can’t meet Wisconsin’s legal standards for environmental protection, so they’re working to get rid of those protections and shut the public out of the process,” said Nekola.
The release of the bill comes as the mining company Gogebic Taconite conducts exploratory drilling in the Penokee Range, located at the headwaters of the Bad River near Ashland. The company has leased the mineral rights to 22,000 acres in order to construct an open-pit iron ore mine there.
“Approving a strip mine in a region known for Class A trout streams, high-quality wetlands, pristine parks and national forests without thorough environmental analysis and the opportunity for the public to have a voice is outrageous,” said Nekola. “Instead of trying to rewrite our laws to accommodate polluters, we should ensure that they operate within current law.”