December 2012 Newsletter
December 8, 2012
Dear WRPC Member,
Governor Scott Walker recently told his supporters in the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) that his top legislative priority in the upcoming (January) session of the legislature is passage of the controversial Iron Mining Bill that was defeated by one vote in the Senate last spring. He claimed that if the bill were passed early in 2013, Gogebic Taconite (GTac) would “move forward with a mine which would put people to work right off the bat.”
Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) said the governor is “delusional” if he believes what he told business leaders about potential changes in the state’s mining laws. “The governor is doing an extreme disservice to the people of Wisconsin by suggesting that somehow there is going to be construction activity and the creation of many jobs in the year 2013 if we pass this legislation.” (Wisconsin Public Radio, 11/29/12)
Sen. Jauch explained that even if the Iron Mining Bill passes, it would take the company at least two years to get a permit to begin construction. However, with the slowdown in Chinese demand for steel, the price for iron ore plunged from $150/ton in April to $87 in September. Cliffs Natural Resources, the nation’s largest producer of iron ore pellets is laying off 125 workers at Northshore Mining in Minnesota and 500 workers at its Empire Mine in Michigan due to falling iron ore prices. Far more likely is that GTac would sit on the permit until market conditions improve or sell it to one of the big iron mining companies like BHP Billiton or Rio Tinto.
If Rio Tinto or BHP Billiton entered the picture they would employ the same labor-saving technology that has made their mines in Australia so cost competitive. Rio Tinto’s iron ore mines in the Pilbara region of Western Australia are the pilot projects for the company’s Mine of the Future system trials. “When fully realized, “ says the Engineering and Mining Journal, the Mine of the Future vision – one of the world’s largest civilian robotics projects – will see all vehicles and equipment at the mines self-guiding and self-controlling with minimal direct human intervention.” (“Running with Robotics,” Jan/Feb 2010). See enclosed cover from Earthmatters. All the promises about mining jobs do not take into account the extreme volatility of metal prices and the long-term trend toward automated mining. Such promises also ignore and devalue all the existing jobs and ways of life that depend upon clean water that will be threatened by massive mining pollution.
If there is no immediate prospect for mining jobs, what is the rush to pass a mining bill, written by GTac, that will completely gut Wisconsin’s regulatory framework for mining and exclude the public and tribal governments from the decision-making process?
In testimony before Senator Tim Cullen’s (D-Janesville) Select Committee on Mining, Tim Sullivan, president of the Wisconsin Mining Association, said Wisconsin’s “Prove it First” Mining Moratorium Law “must go.” Sullivan complained that the law was “too restrictive” and would discourage investment in gold, silver and copper sulfide deposits in Marathon and Taylor counties. He cited the “success” of the partially-reclaimed Flambeau metallic sulfide mine in Ladysmith as a major reason for repealing “Prove it First” legislation. See Rebecca Kemble’s “Scott Walker Uses Mining Bill as Political Litmus Test,” at www.progressive.org
There is no scientific evidence to support such claims. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently completed an investigation of water quality at the Flambeau Mine site and recommended that “stream C” be included on its list of “impaired waters” for 2012 for “acute aquatic toxicity” caused by copper and zinc. See “WRPC submits Flambeau mine info to State Senate Committee,” at www.wrpc.net
Stream C will be the first surface water in Wisconsin to be listed as impaired specifically for acute copper toxicity and only the fifth to be listed for acute zinc toxicity. In fact, earlier this year the DNR issued a report that directly links this pollution to the Flambeau mine. These illegal discharges of toxic metals are why Judge Barbara Crabb recently found Flambeau Mining Company had violated the Clean Water Act.
Behind all the false promises about mining jobs and complaints about Wisconsin’s “Prove it First” legislation is a well-funded mining industry attack on a grassroots citizen and tribal movement which mobilized tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens and tribal members to oppose Exxon’s destructive Crandon mine and enact the Mining Moratorium Law fifteen years ago. The law was approved by overwhelming margins (27-6 in the Senate, 91-6 in the Assembly) and signed by Governor Thompson.
Proponents of the Crandon mine said that the Wisconsin legislature would never pass such a law. Exxon and WMC spent more than a million dollars lobbying against the legislation. Exxon spent another million on radio, tv and newspaper advertising opposing the legislation. The DNR and Governor Thompson opposed the legislation.
In the end, the Indian, environmental and sportfishing alliance that came together in the aftermath of the Chippewa spearfishing conflict defeated the combined power of the state and the world’s largest mining corporations. After Governor Thompson reluctantly signed the Mining Moratorium Law on Earth Day, April 22, 1998, Exxon sold its half of the Crandon project to its Canadian partner, Rio Algom. It took Rio Algom several more years before it realized that the alliance that successfully passed Wisconsin’s “Prove it First” law also supported the sovereign right of the Mole Lake Ojibwe Tribe to protect itself from any mining pollution upstream from the tribe’s sacred wild rice beds.
The lessons of the Crandon mine battle have been ignored by proponents of GTac’s Iron Mining Bill. The Bad River Ojibwe Tribe whose sacred wild beds are just downstream from the proposed strip mine, have the sovereign authority to protect their wild rice from mining pollution. They also have the right to be consulted about any legislation that would affect their treaty rights to harvest resources in the ceded territory of Wisconsin. These rights have been ignored and disrespected by the governor and the Republican leadership. Bob Seitz, a lobbyist for GTac, said their first priority is to pass the bill and worry about tribal concerns later (see “Mining firm backs changes,” MJS 12/3/12). This is a recipe for confrontation. The legislature may pass a bill, but the state does not have the final say over what happens in the ceded territory of Wisconsin. Stay tuned.
Executive Secretary, WRPC