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Landmark Wisconsin Mining Moratorium Under Siege

'Prove It First' law subject of 'well-funded mining industry attack on a grassroots and tribal movement'

- Beth Brogan, staff writer

Wisconsin's landmark mining moratorium, which has protected sacred tribal lands and other areas from strip mining for 15 years, is under attack by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and industry executives who hope to overturn the requirement that, before obtaining a permit, prospective mining companies prove at least one mine in the country has not polluted surface or groundwater.

The Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin. A Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources study of a tributary of the Flambeau River found recently that the mine has been discharging polluted runoff from the mine site since 1999. (Photo courtesy of EcoWatch) So far, according to EcoWatch, "the industry has not been able to find a single example where they have mined without polluting water."

Nevertheless Walker recently said his top legislative priority in 2013 was to overturn the Mining Moratorium Law, also known as the "Prove It First" law.

Rebecca Kemble at The Progressive reports:

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, drafted by the WMC and lawyers for Geogebic Taconite (GTac) that was defeated by one vote in the Senate last spring. He claimed that if the bill were passed early in 2013, GTac would “move forward with a mine which would put people to work right off the bat.”

GTac has purchased mineral rights for 21,000 acres along 22 miles of the Penokee Range in northwestern Wisconsin, according to the Sierra Club. In 2011, GTac proposed to build the state's largest mine ever—4.5 miles long, one-third of a mile wide and 900 feet deep—to extract taconite, a type of low-grade iron ore.

But Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch told Wisconsin Public Radio that Walker is "delusional" if he thinks overturning the law will create the promised jobs. Jauch said Walker 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."

Even if the moratorium is overturned, according to Jauch, it would take GTac at least two years to get a permit to begin construction.

According to Al Gedicks, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council,

Wisconsin is now under a well-funded mining industry attack on the grassroots environmental, sport-fishing and tribal movement which mobilized tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens to successfully oppose Exxon’s destructive Crandon mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River and enact Wisconsin’s landmark Mining Moratorium Law. That citizen movement 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. In 2003, BHP Billiton admitted defeat of the Crandon mine project and sold the mineral rights to the zinc and copper deposit to the Mole Lake Ojibwe and the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe.

[…]

The tribe has sovereign authority, under the Clean Water Act, to protect its wild rice from mining pollution. They also have the right to be consulted about any legislation that would affect their treaty rights. So far, these rights have been ignored. Legislators rushing to accommodate the wishes of powerful corporate actors may be in for a painful reminder about the power of engaged citizens and tribes.

“Governor Walker and state legislators are seriously over-reaching if they believe that Wisconsin citizens elected them to gut environmental laws for mining companies.” said Shahla Werner, director of the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club, in a statement. “Governor Thompson understood that giving special favors to mining companies whose only motive is to profit from our resources and leave us with toxic mining wastes forever and devastated local economies was a mistake in the 1990s, and it still won’t work for us today.”