Wisconsin Mining Bill SB1/AB1: A Historical Review of AB426 01.22.13 By Barbara With

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Most people who have read the bill agree it’s a resurrected AB426, the failed 2012 mining bill that went through the rigors of three public hearings and several public listening sessions. After making a trip to the region to see the natural resources and speak directly with those who would be most affected by the proposed mountain top removal project, Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) voted against the bill that would have wreaked destruction on the economy and environment of the northern tier of the state.

January 11, 2012 Hurley public hearing, prayers before the testimony. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

Rep. Vos himself admitted that SB1/AB1 are “99.9% the same” as AB426. Therefore a thorough review of the public testimony from the first hearings should stand in as appropriate public sentiment for the second time around.

Each public hearing demonstrated strong and growing public majorities in opposition to the bill. In total, 937 of 1160 Wisconsin citizens attending the three hearings on AB426 opposed the bill; more than 81%, or a more than 4 to 1 ratio.*

A poll commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters in February 2012 found that 72% of those polled were opposed to diminishing public participation in mine permitting processes through the proposed abolition of contested case hearings; 69% were opposed to sacrificing wetlands for mining wastes; and 77% opposed making taxpayers foot the bill for mine permitting costs.

The change in public sentiment since AB426 failed last year is that more people are now educated and aware of the misleading information coming out of the Wisconsin mining cartel. When Tea Party Republican John Sendra ran against Rep. Janet Bewley in the 74th Assembly District on one issue—mining—he only won 41% of the vote in the area most affect by the mine. In Vilas County, where extreme mining advocate Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazlehurst) won, Sendra only received 519 votes against 960 for Bewley. Statistically, it is safe to assume that the public sentiment against a mine in the Penokee Hills has only gotten stronger.

AB426 In Review

January 19, 2011: Matt Fifield, Project Director for Gogebic Taconite, explained, “If the question is, ‘are we trying to influence them to pass legislation that’s going to weaken environmental laws, that’s going to weaken federal and state air and water quality,’ the answer is ‘no.’” What Fifield didn’t reveal was that G-Tac was actually in the process of authoring a new mining bill. While the bill did not weaken the standards, AB426 simply exempted the mining company from complying with them. AB24 removed most protection from state wetlands.

January 21, 2011: Fifield told an audience at a public forum at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center that G-Tac had access to “thousands of feet of drill logs” that told them of the “world-class deposits” of iron ore that possess many qualities demanded by the market. “This is iron mining; this is not sulfide mining. Because we have a physical process—smashing rocks and pulling iron out with magnets, not heavy chemical treating—iron mining projects are more easily able to comply with these strict regulations.”

However, according to two scientists who testified at a February 17, 2012 Joint Finance Committee meeting about the bill, the ore body cannot be accessed without digging through high sulfide overburden, and the definitions used in the bill were misleading and scientifically meaningless. And while G-Tac may not use heavy chemicals to treat the ore, if they have thousands of feet of drill logs, they would have known the impact of mining an ore-body that is rich in pyrite, even without chemicals. That billions of gallons of sulfuric acid could be leeched from the overburden into the groundwater was never discussed.

May 2011: A draft of the mining bill is leaked; public and legislators are outraged at the removal of protections of the citizens and resources of the state. Who authored the bill remains unknown.

June 2011: Republicans decide not to introduce the bill until after the senate recall elections in August.

December 14, 2011 West Allis public hearing. Photo: Rebecca Kemble

November 30, 2011 AB426 is introduced to the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business. Committee members refuse to reveal who authored the bill.

December 14, 2011 The first public hearing is held in West Allis in the southeast part of the state: 63% opposed (225); 37% in favor (131)*

January 11, 2012 The second public hearing is held by the same committee in Hurley in northern Wisconsin near the proposed mine site: 85% opposed (358), 15% in favor (61)* Even those who registered in favor of the bill had reservations about the revenue sharing aspects of it that would burden local communities with the costs of building and maintaining infrastructure.

January 25, 2012 Despite public outcry, AB426 is passed through committee. Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) clearly states they will ignore Federal Treaty rights. Again, Stone claims he does not know who wrote the bill. Chair Rep. Mary Williams (R-Medford) also refuses to acknowledge the author, and G-Tac President Bill Williams continues to evade the question of who wrote the bill.

January 26, 2012 Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Kramer (R-Waukesha) orders all visitors removed from the gallery and the doors locked while they vote on AB426. All Republicans ask to be named authors of the bill. Photo. Michael Matheson

January 26, 2012 Assembly public galleries are emptied, closed and locked as AB426 is passed under violation of the Wisconsin Constitution. All Republicans now claim to be authors of AB426.

January 30, 2012  Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) convenes a new mining committee headed by Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn).

February 17, 2012 Final public hearing is held before the Joint Committee on Finance. At that hearing, testimony from independent scientists who analyzed samples of rock from the mine area reveal the risk of possible enormous environmental damage.  92% opposed (353); 8% in favor (31)*

February 25-26, 2012 Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) hold two public listening sessions in Mellen and Ashland, and visit with the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, who are some of those most affected.

Rep. Vos and Sen Darling, co-chairs of Joint Finance Committee, listening to Mike Wiggins testify on the amended version of AB426: “Treaties were done to avoid blood spilling on the ground, to avoid wars over resources. They were compromises and mutual understandings that we will need basic things to live our lives, and for us that’s clean air and water. I don’t know if there’s anything more you need to know about it.” Photo: Rebecca Kemble

February 21, 2012 Schultz and Jauch introduce a compromise bill.

March 6, 2012  Rep. Vos and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) introduce their version of a compromise bill.

March 7, 2012 The Schultz/Jauch bill is defeated in committee and the Vos/Darling version of AB426 is sent to the Senate, where it is defeated by one vote from Sen. Schultz and sent back to committee. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald now admits the mining company drafted the bill.

March 19, 2012  A “public” hearing is scheduled in the Judiciary committee to discuss the consideration of the bill during a possible special session. No public input will be allowed, however, the meeting is cancelled.

The Penokee Hills above and strip mined land for iron ore in MN below. Photos by Joel Austin