March 2015 Newsletter
March 11, 2015
Dear WRPC Member,
Gogebic Taconite’s (GTac’s) proposed mountaintop removal iron mine in the Penokee Hills is dead. On February 28, GTac president Bill Williams announced it was closing its office in Hurley because the project was not feasible, citing the extensive wetlands at the mine site and the uncertainty about whether the mine would be permitted.
However, according to the law (Act 1) that GTac largely wrote, no such assurance is possible until the company has conducted the scientific studies that are necessary to determine whether the proposed mine will meet the requirements of the law.
An “unexpected proliferation of wetlands” found at the mine site
But the company never collected the data to find out how the mine would affect groundwater around the mine site. And they were surprised when their consultants found much more extensive wetlands than they expected to find at the mine site.
If GTac had listened to what local citizens were saying about the wetlands or to the independent hydrogeologist employed by the Bad River Ojibwe, this would not have been a surprise. Instead, the company threatened legal action to prevent the tribe’s expert from identifying wetland areas in the mine site.
GTac did not want to be confused with the facts about the proposed mine
Tensions between GTac and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) became public in 2014 when the company objected to a DNR research document that listed some of the major environmental hazards of mining, including acid mine drainage, mercury contamination, and the fact that “six watersheds with a total surface area of 1300 square miles transect the Gogebic Range in Wisconsin and drain to Lake Superior.”
GTac spokesperson Bob Seitz objected to the report because “it just gives a laundry list of the kind of stuff you hear from protestors.” Seitz accused DNR regulators of “overstepping their regulatory authority” and said GTac “can’t spend money on curiosities—there is a process and both sides have to respect it.” GTac’s dismissal of a scientific report as mere protest rhetoric goes against the Wisconsin tradition of common sense oversight of projects that can affect our drinking water, trout streams, wild rice beds, human health and Lake Superior itself.
Just to make sure this never happens again, the governor’s recent budget proposal cuts 66 DNR staff from the department’s science bureau, fisheries, forestry and education operations. DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp insists that the agency is not abandoning science. Just the scientists.
Apparently, mapping wetlands was a curiosity the company couldn’t afford to investigate despite the fact that the large amount of mine waste from the proposed mine would cover almost half of a 3,300 acres site in Iron County that contains hundreds of acres of wetlands and trout streams. Just southwest of this site are the headwaters of the Bad River watershed, which supports the 16,000-acre Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs and the largest natural wild rice bed in the Great Lakes basin.
Blaming the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vs. Failure to Obtain a Social License to Operate
In addition to underestimating the amount of wetlands at the mine site, Bill Williams blamed federal oversight of wetlands for the company’s pullout from the project. A spokeswoman for Governor Scott Walker echoed Williams by blaming the EPA. “It’s unfortunate that the federal requirements for mitigating wetlands make it cost prohibitive for Gogebic to move forward at this time,” said Laurel Patrick.
Williams also pointed to concerns about the EPA’s action regarding the Pebble gold and copper mine in Alaska where the EPA told the company that its mine plan would do irreversible damage to one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries. Six Ojibwe tribes asked EPA to conduct a similar independent review of the environmental effects of GTac’s proposed mine on federally-protected treaty rights and resources in Wisconsin. But the EPA declined to act on the tribal request (see “EPA disputes Gogebic fears about mine”).
Nevertheless, GTac was concerned with any federal oversight of the project. “We’ve seen the EPA step out against the Pebble Mine,” said Bill Williams. “Are we on their radar?”
Yes, Mr. Williams, this project is on the radar for lots of us
Bill Williams admits that the EPA had done nothing to slow down the proposed mine. But Williams had legitimate cause for concern because the actions of his company have demonstrated that GTac cannot be trusted to disclose the unacceptable risks of this ill-conceived project. In other words, GTac failed to secure a social license to operate by ignoring the objections to this project from concerned citizens, tribes, environmental groups and local governments.
Former Democratic senator Bob Jauch responded to GTac’s announcement as follows: “This company manipulated the public, bought the legislature and co-opted them into participating in one of the biggest scams in Wisconsin history.” Jauch accused Gov. Walker and Republican lawmakers who pushed for the mine of “genuflecting” to the mining company and damaging the community by pitting neighbors against each other over the controversial project (see “State mine project dropped”).
The organized opposition stopped this mine
What GTac, the governor and the Republican establishment will never admit is that this project was stopped by the organized and sustained grassroots action of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes, local communities and the state’s environmental and conservation community. Drawing inspiration and tactics from the successful opposition to the Crandon mine, this movement countered the massive financial contributions and political influence buying by GTac and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce with public education, working with local government and support for treaty rights.
Cleaning up the mess GTac left behind
GTac is gone but they left behind legislation (Act 1) that seriously weakens environmental protections for any future mining project. A major priority for the Conservation Congress Spring Hearings in every county on April 13 at 7:00pm will be to introduce resolutions to repeal the Iron Mining Law (Act 1). We need volunteers in every county to introduce these resolutions. For copies of the resolution and the location of the hearing, contact email@example.com
Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Seek Public Support for Class I Air Redesignation Proposal
As part of the tribe’s efforts to protect their reservation lands and resources from ecologically destructive projects, the Bad River tribe has asked for public support for its effort to protect its air quality by having it redesignated to Class I (pristine) under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration program.
Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins told Wisconsin Public Radio that GTac’s proposed iron mine played a role in their application to the EPA. “Air quality impacts from taconite mining are real. Class I air standards just give us a lever to vet public health impacts and to give us a way to at least try and protect ourselves.”
Such a change in status from Class II, just like the rest of the country, to Class I status would allow the tribe to have a say on air permits that could be given to major polluters in the area. The immediate threat from GTac may be gone, but other threats, such as proposed concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are on the horizon. If approved, Bad River would be the second tribe in Wisconsin, after the Forest County Potawatomi, and one of six nationwide with this status.
A Class I Analysis report can be found on the website: http://x.co/BADRVR
The tribe is encouraging public comments on how this air quality redesignation would protect existing air quality and allow for growth that’s consistent with the region’s air quality.
Two public hearings are scheduled to learn more about the tribe’s Class1 redesignation. The first is on March 18 from 5:00-8:00 pm at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. The second is on March 19 from 5:00-8:00 pm at the Bad River Housing Authority.
Written comments may be sent to:
Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
c/o Class I Air
72682 Maple Street
Odanah, WI 54861
Comments may also be emailed to: class1air@badriver-nsn-gov
Comment deadline is 4:30 pm on May 1, 2015.
It’s time to act on many of the proposals for a sustainable northwoods economy put forward at the recent Mining Alternatives Summit hosted by the Red Cliff Ojibwe. Local food production and distribution, maple syrup production, solar energy development, forest products, eco-tourism etc.
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary