Bipartisan mining plan is the only way (the Democrats Illusion 03/13/12)

Democrats get their committee . WE believe this committee will provide one more opportunity for world wide companies to get their own way - an open pit strip through the Bad River Watershed. Democratic Senate leader, Mark Miller has kicked the door open for GTac, Wisconsin Mining Association, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce,  Enbridge, Haliburtan, Rio Tinto and anyone else who wants to  promote mining the Penokees and threaten our Everglades of the North!  Too bad - as this whole idea smacks of politics as usual. WE had hoped for a change from Mark Miller - not business as usual.

Bipartisan mining plan is the only way

By Bob Jauch

March 13, 2012

The Duluth News Tribune editorial Thursday (which was reprinted Friday on the Journal Sentinel Editorial Page) captured the emotion of the mining issue. Unfortunately, it did not convey the facts.

Facts matter, especially in this hypertensive political environment, where blame is too often a substitute for results. I talked to News Tribune Opinion editors Thursday. Had the conversation happened a day earlier, I believe the editorial would have been far different.

The Senate did not kill a mining bill. Nor did the Senate reject mining reform. On a bipartisan vote, the Senate rejected an Assembly plan. However, before we could vote for a bipartisan plan, the Republican floor leader moved the bill back to committee.

In other words, the leader scheduled a policy that could not pass but referred a mining reform that would have passed. Thus he opened the floodgates of accusation that 16 Democrats and one Republican killed mining reform. It is the sad state of political discourse.

The false impression is that Democrats and one Republican don't care about jobs and oppose mining. Nothing is further from the truth. We are not trying to adopt a Republican or Democratic law. We are trying to adopt a responsible law.

In the past year, I worked very closely with my Senate colleagues to achieve that goal.

I pushed for the creation of a Senate Select Committee on Mining that was finally created in September. I worked closely with Republican Chair Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) and others to chart a pathway to achieving consensus. On a process where secrecy has dominated the decision process, we agreed that transparency was essential.

If anything contributed to a breakdown in communication, it was not Democratic posturing. While I was talking with my Senate Republican colleagues, the Assembly Republicans were not. They had not conveyed any of the details of their plan with their Senate Republican counterparts.

Recently, Kedzie put forth a Senate draft proposal to be used as a foundation for a Senate bill. Two days later, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) dissolved the committee he created and sent the bill to the Finance Committee. The committee gave citizens of the north 36 hours' notice to attend a public hearing in Madison.

Following dissolution of the mining committee, Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and I met with individuals with diverse views on the topic. We then offered a rare glimpse of genuine bipartisanship, when we introduced a plan that we thought could be a good blueprint to get to resolution.

It was a plan quite similar to ideas suggested in the News Tribune editorial.

We set a one-year pre-application process so the Department of Natural Resources and the public would have the opportunity to be more aware of a pending permit and be involved in public discussion. We also established reasonable timelines of 540 days and included an end date so that the process would not keep the company in limbo.

We provided flexibility to encourage collaboration between the Army Corps of Engineers and DNR so that the company would not end up with two costly environmental impact statements. We also gave the company unlimited off-ramps if it wished to stop the clock to deal with unforeseen problems. We provided the state with three off-ramps but empowered the company to determine length of pause.

We reformed contested case proceedings, which is the quasi-judicial process to enable citizens and others to challenge the DNR and the company. The contested case has to be within the second half of the process so it doesn't result in unnecessary delay.

Our plan is very similar to Minnesota mining statutes. We used best practices because they work.

Unlike the Assembly proposal, which substantially threatens groundwater standards, our plan does not weaken environmental standards. It does not allow the DNR to extend the mining boundaries an additional 1,200 feet, which can result in increased pollution. Nor does it change current law that requires the company do groundwater monitoring beneath the mine surface.

Unlike the Assembly plan, which allows the company to fill in navigable waters, our plan respects our constitution and honors the Public Trust Doctrine, which states that the waters of the state belong to the people.

The Assembly bill is an invitation to litigation. The navigable waters provision inevitably will lead to lengthy lawsuits that will delay a project and deprive the area of mining for years.

Current law prohibits mining in a state natural area. Eliminating this provision has no bearing on the Penokee project because there are no state natural areas in the area. So why is it included in the Assembly bill?

Across Wisconsin, residents have expressed serious concerns about these provisions. During hearings in Hurley and Mellen, a majority of citizens who favor mining opposed the Assembly bill.

Neither Schultz nor I drew any line in the sand other than to emphasize that citizens who support responsible mining will not accept indefensible weakening of environmental standards.

The public yearns for bipartisanship, and Schultz and I have attempted to set an example of how Republicans and Democrats can work together. Our plan offered a way to invite thoughtful discussion and lead to constructive results.

Recently, I spoke with Gov. Scott Walker and pledged to work with him to find a solution other than the Senate bombshell that has confused citizens and deafened the ability for citizens or public officials to have reasoned discussion.

Throughout the past few days, I have focused my attention on solving the problem rather than salivating in the bombastic rhetoric that doesn't accomplish anything. I will continue to work to see if it is possible to find a bipartisan solution that is fair to a mining company but upholds the Wisconsin values of preserving the environment that sustains us.

Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) represents the 25th Senate District. This was also published in the Duluth News Tribune.