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200 pack listening session on mining bill

Northland College Associate Professor of Geoscience Tom Fitz discusses the geography of the Penokee Hills during a hearing on proposed legislation that would streamline the state's mining laws Saturday in Ashland. (AP Photo/The Ashland Daily Press, Rick Olivo)

ASHLAND, Wis. (AP) — A hearing on proposed legislation that would streamline the state’s mining laws drew at least 200 people to northern Wisconsin on Saturday, with most saying the measure would lead to devastating environmental damage.

The listening session was organized by state Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, to give northern residents a chance to comment on a mine-permitting bill he offered as an alternative to the Republican bill approved last week by mining committees in both the Senate and the Assembly.

At issue is legislation designed to help Gogebic Taconite open a massive iron mine in far northwestern Wisconsin. Republicans say the bill will ease the company’s regulatory path and help it create hundreds of jobs. Democrats and environmentalists argue that the bill weakens environmental protections and won’t create nearly as many Wisconsin jobs as the company claims.

Speakers at the Ashland hearing included members of the Bad River Chippewa band, whose reservation and rice beds are downriver from the proposed mine, as well as officials from neighboring cities, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report.

Ashland Mayor Bill Whalen asked legislators not to change current mining laws that protect communities such as his.

“That material from that mine will reach the bay in 25 or 30 years,” Whalen said. “It’s very important your legislation protects us.”

Mayor Larry McDonald of nearby Bayfield warned of potential damage to Lake Superior.

“Do no harm to Lake Superior,” McDonald said. “Don’t screw it up. We get only one shot at this.”

But other speakers argued in favor of the proposed legislation, saying the economically depressed area desperately needed jobs.

“The people here have been living in poverty for 50 to 100 years. That’s all they know,” Hurley resident Harry Ellsmore said. “… This mine opportunity is something that should not be taken lightly.”

But Bob Tammen, who drove to the hearing from Minnesota, said prosperity never came to the Minnesota communities near the state’s heavily mined Mesabi Range.

“We don’t have a healthy main street along 100 miles of the Mesabi Range,” Tammen said. “If mining brings prosperity, how come our communities don’t have it?”

Critics of the Republican bill say it weakens environmental protections by giving the state Department of Natural Resources too much latitude to exempt a mining company from laws that protect wetlands, lakes and rivers.

Cullen said his bill sets a reasonable timeline for the DNR to act on a mine permit but it doesn’t weaken environmental laws.

The Ashland hearing was attended by 10 Democratic legislators and one Republican, state Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center.

State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said the listening session was also organized because people who live near the mine haven’t had a chance to be heard. “We will stay until the last person has a chance to speak,” Jauch said.

Republicans held only one hearing in Madison on the GOP bill that lasted a full day and still ended with at least 100 people waiting to testify.

Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

2 comments

  1. Responsible mining brings great jobs and provides the metals and minerals our society demands. These metals and minerals are used by everyone (including every single person at this meeting), they save lives (medical equipment), they are used for our national security by our soldiers. What also fails to be mentioned are all the indirect jobs mined metals and minerals create and sustain outside of the mining industry — manufacturing and construction jobs, for example, both of which need the materials to conduct their respective businesses.
    Environmentalists run on emotion, not logic, and are among the most hypocritical groups in our society. These groups push using metal water bottles on their websites to avoid plastic pileup — now, which is it?
    I recommend watching the documentary “Mine Your Own Business” — it shows how these environmentalist groups shove their agenda’s down the throats of communities who don’t want their interferences and that do want the mines, the jobs and the money.
    I also recommend reading “Environmental Utopia” by Marita Noon – an excellent writing that highlights what’s wrong with the environmentalist’s theories and practices; quite humorous, too.
    Better to have these natural resources mined here, where they are closely monitored, than in a foreign country that lacks responsible mining practices — and don’t be fooled to think those resulting pollutions don’t find their way to our shores.
    The number one source of water pollution in the US is farming. Yet, our government gives out billions of dollars a year to farmers; they certainly don’t have public permitting processes whenever a farmer wants to fertilize his crop! Ridiculous.
    I say, “Stop the Whining and Start the Mining!”

  2. LJ, perhaps if the sulfuric acid was spilling in your backyard, and poisening the food you eat, you would have a different prospective. The dangers of mining into sulfur are great. What do you care, it won’t effect you or your children, grandchildren or great grandchildren? My family eats the wild rice that is harvested in Bad River. For centuries, we have fed our families with this healthy grain. And you say Mine, We say mind your own business.

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