Hearing Records Show Overwhelming Opposition to Mining Bill 02.11.13

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Hearing Records Show Overwhelming Opposition to Mining Bill

Gogebic Taconite presents their case to legislators and citizens at a public hearing on January 23, 2013. Here Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) asks about environmental concerns. Photo: Leslie Amsterdam

Almost three weeks after the only public hearing was held on controversial mining bill SB1/AB1, the chairs of the legislative committees charged with vetting it  have yet to release the results. Neither Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) nor Rep. Mary Williams (R-Medford) has publicly announced information on testimony presented at the January 23, 2013 hearing.

However, WCMC obtained a copy of the final tally of public appearances through the office of Rep. Evan Goyeke (D-Milwaukee) which reveals overwhelming opposition to the bill. Of the 976 people who registered or testified at the hearing in Madison, 149 did so in support of the bill, while 815 people opposed it, with 12 listed as “for information only.”

Despite this massive opposition, the bills were passed out of both committees on February 6, 2013 and are headed to the Joint Committee on Finance before reaching the Senate and Assembly for passage by the Republican-dominated chambers. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) has indicated the bill will come to the floor in early March.

The first four hours of the hearing were dedicated to pro-mining advocates, beginning with the bill’s authors Sen. Tom Tiffany, Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) and Rep. Mark Honadel (R-Oak Creek). Shortly after, Bill Williams, Tim Myers and Bob Seitz of Gogebic Taconite (GTac), the company owned by coal mining magnate Chris Cline that has proposed a massive mountain top removal project in the Penokee Hills near the shores of Lake Superior received special consideration of unlimited time to speak. They were also the only people allowed to present photos and illustrations, which were forbidden for all other testifiers. The pro-mining advocates took up so much time that at least 100 citizens were not able to speak before Tiffany adjourned the meeting at 9 PM.

Ashland City Council member Kelly Westlund testified against a mine in the Penokees, February 9, 2013, as did the mayors of Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland.

A public listening session held in Ashland on February 9, 2013 hosted by Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Rep. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) revealed the same overwhelming opposition to the bill, as well as to the proposed mine in the Penokee Hills. As of 4:30 PM, approximately 250 people had registered against, while only 25 registered for. At the conclusion of the nearly 10 hour long session, 94 spoke against the bill while only five spoke in favor of it.

When WCMC contacted Sen. Tiffany’s office to obtain official records of the January 23 public hearing, his aide, Tyler Wenzlaff, seemed confused as to why the public might wish to know the results of the only hearing for the bill. Here is a transcript of the phone call:

WCMC: I wonder if the Senator has released the results of the public hearing on SB1/AB1?

Wenzlaff: What do you mean the results?

WCMC: How many people were for and against?

Wenzlaff: The committee clerk is at lunch right now. He keeps track of that stuff. I don’t know. Not that I know of.

WCMC: So he wouldn’t release the results of what the hearing revealed as far as opposition or support?

Wenzlaff:Well, I mean, it’s a small sample.

WCMC: He wouldn’t want to let the public know what the results of those hearings were?

Wenzlaff: I am not sure I understand the results?

WCMC: There were so many people who registered for and against, and so many who spoke for and against.

Wenzlaff: That would all be underneath the bill in the committee report.

WCMC: Right but he doesn’t have that information? He’s chair of the committee.

Wenzlaff: I don’t have that in my hands.

Further investigation reveals even the Wisconsin Legislature website does not list the results of the hearing.

Citizens were instructed that if they sent in their comments and registrations to Sen. Tiffany or Rep. Williams by email between 9 AM and 9 PM January 23, their opinions and comments would become part of the official record. If you sent your email to either Sen. Tiffany or Rep. Williams and are not on this list, forward your email to their offices and demand that your voice be counted.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, (608) 266-2509, Sen.Tiffany@legis.wi.gov
Rep. Mary Williams, (608) 266-7506, Rep.WilliamsM@legis.wisconsin.gov