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January 18, 2020

10/10/2017 7:30:00 AM
Mining moratorium bill moves forward
Environmentalists warn of dangers

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

State Sen. Tom Tiffany's bill to repeal Wisconsin's mining moratorium took a major step forward late last week, with the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining, and Forestry voting 3-2 to move the bill to the full Senate for action.

Those who support the legislation - they say it will spur economic growth - were ecstatic. Natural Resource Development Association executive director Nathan Conrad said the legislation would both create jobs and protect the environment.

"The Natural Resource Development Association applauds the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining, and Forestry members for voting in favor of the Mining for America Act," Conrad said. "This landmark legislation will help build a generation of good-paying, family-supporting jobs, while maintaining our pristine landscape with stringent environmental standards."

Conrad said the group had released a digital ad thanking the senators for their vote. The advertisement is scheduled to run on social media platforms as well as on multiple targeted news sites.

The bill was passed after the committee approved amendments designed to make the moratorium's repeal more palatable. Among other things, the amendments will require mining applicants to bond for unforeseen remedial contingencies for 40 years after mining ends, and it requires the DNR to determine if an applicant is technologically equipped to comply with various pollution standards.

Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) - the chairman of the committee - and State Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) had introduced the legislation, which they called The Mining for America Act, in August. The bill specifically seeks to end what is effectively a 20-year-old ban on sulfide mining. The lawmakers said Wisconsin already has strong laws in place to make sure mining is safe and the moratorium prevents those laws from being used.

The lawmakers say the moratorium is hindering Wisconsin's ability to regain its footing in the manufacturing sector, along with the high-wage jobs that are paid in that sector.

"People want to make things in America again," Tiffany said when he introduced the bill. "Our neighbors, Minnesota and Michigan, have placed their shovels in the dirt of America's future. It is Wisconsin's turn to do the same. American technological needs such as mobile phones, hybrid cars, and even solar panels require mined minerals to be built. It is time for America to build these products. That process can begin here."

Environmentalists react

Environmentalists said the bill would endanger Wisconsin's clean water economy, and officials of the River Alliance of Wisconsin said the amendments passed last week did nothing to mollify those dangers.

"River Alliance of Wisconsin believes the amendments to SB 395 that were approved are as weak as the rationale for the original bill," the group said in a statement. "Our position has not changed on SB 395. None of the amendments fulfill our long-standing commitment to protect the environment and local businesses. River Alliance of Wisconsin remains strongly opposed to this bill because of the threat it poses to our waters, the economy, and Wisconsin's way of life."

River Alliance executive director Raj Shukla also said the bill, if enacted, would leave taxpayers at risk of paying for the cleanup when Wisconsin becomes the laboratory for unproven mining technologies.

"Our current 'Prove it First' law requires mining companies to prove in advance that any sulfide mine has operated safely," Shukla said. "This bill now allows companies like Aquila Resources to claim to have the technology to be capable of operating safely. 'Capable' is far from proven and not worth the risk."

Shukla said the sulfide mining moratorium bill was a bipartisan effort to protect the state's waters, and that Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Alberta Darling, and other Republicans worked with Democrats and the environmental community to pass a common-sense compromise.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters called the Prove it First law a gold standard of protection, and said the law has protected Wisconsin from the devastating effects of sulfide mining, including poisoned rivers, ecological dead zones, and toxic drinking water.

The group said Tiffany's proposed amendments were merely token attempts to hoodwink the public.

"The Prove It First mining law works, period," said Kerry Schumann, the WLCV executive director. "Senate Bill 395 cannot be fixed with amendments. No one is foolish enough to believe this bill can be made better while still repealing Prove It First, but Sen. Tiffany obviously thinks so."

Schumann said public opposition to the bill was growing, and the public had generated more than 6,600 emails, letters, and phone calls to legislators opposing the bill. Schumann also said more than 200 local elected officials signed a letter opposing the bill.

"We call on the committee and all legislators to oppose SB 395," Schumann said. "This legislation will open up Wisconsin to America's most toxic industry, leave local communities suffering its toxic consequences, and hand taxpayers the bill."

But, when the bill was introduced, Hutton said Wisconsin was in a position to reap strong benefits.

"Wisconsin is uniquely equipped to supply precious minerals to the world," Hutton said. "Encouraging significant investments in safe mining will create a new economic environment in northern Wisconsin, resulting in family supporting jobs throughout our entire state. If American consumers want to continue enjoying the luxuries of small electronic devices or hybrid vehicles, it is critical to look inward to build those products."

What's more, Tiffany and Hutton said, consumers purchase products every day that are mined in countries with little to no environmental protections.

"It is time to step up to the plate and mine in a state that chooses to rigorously protect its environment," they said. "Mining can be done responsibly within our state while fulfilling the American consumers' penchant for mineral-based products."

Richard Moore is the author of The New Bossism of the American Left and can be reached at

Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, October 15, 2017
Article comment by: Thomas GARRIGAN

I contacted my legislative representatives to encourage them to vote DOWN lifting the moratorium, but the reactions that I received, especially from Tiffany himself were that lifting the moratorium was a good thing, & in essence, it was a done deal. I felt helpless that the average voter in this State has only "token" say in anything that legislators have already made their minds up about. Could that $3000 contribution to Tiffany's campaign from the Taconite Mining Co. have influenced him a little????

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2017
Article comment by: Craig Strid

You don't have to sell the truth. It stands on its own merits. What these snake oil salesman are selling is hard to swallow and its not a cure. After 30 years of law enforcement I can smell a con. I might as well be a farmers field the way their spreading it. As a victim I feel compelled to speak out. They are moving fast to avoid opposition. I don't pay taxes to be taken or to be a pawn. . I pay taxes for honest representation

Food for thought
Craig Strid.

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Article comment by: Craig Strid

I love Hutton's statement to step up to the plate and mine in a state that chooses to rigorously protect its environment. So who is he representing. These self interest greedy politicans need to be shut down. They keep waving the flag to distract your attention from what really matters. Northern Wisconsin needs to stand up to protect what we love on a daily basis. One has to ask themselves what interest in mining do these politicians have that they go against the will of the people?

Food for though
Craig Strid

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