November 2014 Newsletter
November 19, 2014
Dear WRPC Member,
The New York Times editorial (08/31/2014) said it all: “How to Buy a Mine in Wisconsin.” The editorial referred to the passage of the controversial iron mining bill (ACT 1) and Gogebic Taconite’s (GTac) secret $700,000 contribution to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, an organization directed by the governor’s campaign adviser. “The mine legislation was bad enough from an environmental point of view,” noted the NYT. “It allows the operator to fill streams with mine waste, eliminates public hearings and reduces the taxes the operator would have to pay.” With the recent disclosure of GTac’s secret donation, says the NYT “It turns out to be even more shocking from an ethical viewpoint.”
GTac tries to rewrite Wisconsin’s successful mining resistance
Bob Seitz, a spokesperson for GTac, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the $700,000 contribution to Governor Walker and the passage of GTac’s mining bill in the spring of 2013 was not a case of political corruption. “Mining has always been supported by the citizens,” said Seitz. (see enclosed “Gogebic, allies spent freely to pass mine law,” 9/1/14). Seitz seems to have forgotten the overwhelming public opposition to the iron mining bill and the unprecedented environmental, sportfishing, and tribal movement that successfully opposed Exxon’s Crandon metallic sulfide mine and enacted Wisconsin’s landmark Mining Moratorium Law, also known as Wisconsin’s “Prove it First” law in 1998.
GTac delays further studies at mine site and postpones submission of mining application until fall of 2015
According to Seitz, GTac has now postponed submitting its mining application until the fall of 2015 because their consultants “have found more sensitive areas than are on the latest state Department of Natural Resources map” (Wisconsin State Journal, “Huge mine may shrink away from Ashland County, Gogebic Taconite says,”9/5/14). In addition to underestimating the amount of wetlands at the mine site, GTac was surprised when Ashland County passed a mining ordinance that would require GTac to pay county costs of hiring scientists to evaluate the extensive environmental studies the company will submit prior to issuance of a county mining permit.
GTac responded to the ordinance by threatening to leave about a third of the 4-mile-long deposit in the ground. “We’ve let them know that the ordinance makes it not viable to mine there,” said Seitz.
After spending millions to secure legislation it wrote to speed up the permit process, Christoper Cline and his company are no closer to a mine permit let alone any kind of social license to operate, which is now seen as essential for any large scale project by mining investors. (see my article “The Man Behind Wisconsin’s Iron Mine.”
Tribes and Environmental Groups Ask EPA for a Cumulative Effects Assessment (CEA) of mining in the Lake Superior Basin
Ten Ojibwe and Ottawa Indian tribes, along with 18 environmental groups in the Lake Superior region have asked EPA to do a long overdue Cumulative Effects Assessment of multiple mines in the Lake Superior Basin. The tribal request noted that “the unprecedented expansion of mining in the Lake Superior Basin brings enormous risks to tribal health and welfare, to say nothing of its impacts on other communities. But mining pollution and wetlands destruction have had and will continue to have disproportionately high impacts on tribal communities by threatening wild rice, subsistence fishing, habitats for plants and animals, cultural resources, and human health. EPA has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the treaty rights and resources of Indian tribes in the Ceded Terrirories (Letter to EPA, 5/15/2014).
In a separate letter to EPA, environmental groups expressed support for EPA’s plans to convene a process to compile baseline information for Lake Superior between state, federal and tribal agencies and requested that “this process allow for public input on a review of information gathered and what scientific information is needed to answer scientific questions related to environmental decision making in the Lake Superior basin” (Letter to EPA, 10/31/14).
Mercury, lead, arsenic and air pollutants
Environmental groups have already noted the lack of adequate scientific information on mercury release from taconite and metallic sulfide mining and the potential for mercury bioaccumulation in the environment. Several Duluth-area doctors recently expressed their concern that mercury toxicity affects the developing brains of infants and children. “Studies have shown that exposure to low levels of mercury over time affects learning, attention, memory and IQ. We know this already is a problem in our region and that a Minnesota Department of Health study found that one in 10 newborns in Minnesota’s Lake Superior basin was born with unsafe levels of mercury in the blood. This translates into behavior and learning problems for children” (“Doctors’ view: On Polymet, the priority is health, Duluth News Tribune 11/7/14).
Rep. Sean Duffy (R- 7th Congressional District) Targets EPA Regulatory Authority
Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative has reported that Rep. Sean Duffy has sponsored legislation (HR 4854) to restrict the ability of Wisconsin tribes to petition the EPA for protection of their land and waters. The bill , based upon “model legislation” by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded by the Koch brothers, denies any EPA authority to disapprove or revoke a permit under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. The bill passed the House in September.
EPA approves listing Stream C at the Flambeau Mine site as impaired water
In June 2014, the EPA officially approved the Wisconsin DNR’s recommendation that Stream C at the Flambeau Mine site be listed as impaired for copper and zinc toxicity linked to the Flambeau Mine operation. Stream C is the stream that WRPC et al. sued over in our recent Clean Water Act case against Rio Tinto in Wisconsin. For that public service we are now being ordered to pay the polluter’s court costs – which total $20,000 for WRPC’s share of the costs. If you haven’t already done so, please consider a contribution to defray this unfair cost.
Stay tuned, Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary