Al Gedicks and Eric Hansen: Mine law needs public process, not ‘consensus’

Al Gedicks and Eric Hansen: Mine law needs public process, not ‘consensus’

AL GEDICKS AND ERIC HANSEN | UW-La Crosse professor (Midwest Coalition against Lethal Mining member) and outdoor writer, respectively

If no mining company has been able to meet the standards of Wisconsin’s mining moratorium law, it does not mean the law is flawed and in need of revision. It means the mining industry’s claim of being able to mine safely lacks scientific merit.

Gogebic Taconite may have temporarily abandoned its proposed open pit iron mine at the pristine headwaters of the Bad River, but company spokesman Bob Seitz says the firm still wants Wisconsin’s mining law changed. Efforts are under way to develop a new “consensus” on legislation that failed to pass the Senate in the last session.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, has met with Tim Sullivan, president of the Wisconsin Mining Association, to develop a compromise bill. According to Meyer, WWF and the mining association “agree on 90 percent” of the issues.

Something is wrong with Meyer, Sullivan and other interested parties getting together to work out “consensus” legislation that would allow GTac and other proposed mines to go forward. That process would elevate an unrepresentative group over the broad, thorough civic discussion and scientific investigation that has served this state’s citizens, and its water, so well 

When Wisconsinites last saw this “consensus” approach to mining legislation, it resulted in regulations allowing groundwater contamination beneath and around mine sites. That ill-advised legislation was the result of a 1980s push by mining companies (Exxon, Kennecott and Inland Steel) and the Department of Natural Resources to overturn the previously existing policy of nondegradation of groundwater. Kennecott then obtained a permit for its Flambeau open pit copper and gold mine at Ladysmith in the early 1990s. Kennecott’s own monitoring wells now show the groundwater there is highly polluted with sulfates and various metals.

Wisconsinites thoroughly rejected the lax regulation that that “consensus” developed. In 1998 a broad-based alliance of conservation-minded citizens succeeded in passing Wisconsin’s common sense “show me it is safe first” mining moratorium law. A 29-3 bipartisan vote in the state Senate reflected the depth of support.

This wise law reflects a high regard for due diligence and reasonable prudence — but did not ban mining. It simply requires mining companies to prove their proposed mine would not pollute groundwater or surface water where sulfides are present in the ore body or the rock surrounding the ore body.

Sulfides exposed to air and water create acid mine drainage. Exxon could not meet the requirements of the law and withdrew from the controversial Crandon mine project, which threatened the Wolf River, in 1998.

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