Testimony on for Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue and Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy, and Mining
January 23, 2013
Distinguished members of the Senate and Assembly Committees:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide written testimony on my opposition to
SB1/AB1. Overseas travel means that I cannot give this testimony in person. I am a
member of the Lake Superior Binational Forum, a resident of Wisconsin, a property
owner in Cornucopia WI (in Bayfield County, which would affected by the proposed
taconite mine), and a professor who researches the effects of historic mining projects in
the Lake Superior basin.
A set of binational agreements guide management of Lake Superior resources:
U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the Lake Superior Lakewide
Management Plan, and the Zero Discharge Demonstration Program. Mining within the
Lake Superior basin must be carried out in accordance with these agreements. The
following provisions in SB1/AB1 are not consistent with the agreements.
Compliance with the Lakewide Management Plan
The Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) provides the guiding
framework for the management interventions needed to maintain and restore the physical,
chemical and biological integrity of the lake. Wisconsin is a signatory party to the LaMP.
Before permits are issued for a mining operation within the Lake Superior Basin,
proposed mines must be shown to meet the environmental standards developed within the
LaMP. Specifically, before any state or province in the Lake Superior basin issues a
permit to operate a mine in the basin, that permitting process should require that the
company prevent the discharge of any contaminant-containing materials that will add
new stresses to streams, rivers, and wetlands within the Lake Superior basin. AB1/SB1
does not meet this requirement.
SB1/AB1 includes a general legislative finding that because of the fixed location
of ferrous mineral deposits, it is probable that mining those deposits will result in adverse
impacts to areas of special natural resource interest (ASNRI), and to wetlands in areas of
special natural resource interest (ASNRI wetlands), and that the use of wetlands for
mining activities in a way that would result in a significant adverse impact on wetlands is
presumed to be necessary. I am concerned that this provision is not consistent with the
LaMP and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
Current law prohibits the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
from considering proposed mitigation as part of the review of an application for water
quality certification for any part of a project that will adversely impact an ASNRI
wetland. Under AB1/SB1, mitigation may be used to offset adverse impacts to all types
of wetlands, including ASNRI wetlands.
Current law generally requires that mitigation must occur within 1/2 mile of an
impacted wetland, which is considered “on-site” mitigation. If the DNR determines that
on-site mitigation is not practicable, the DNR must allow mitigation to be performed as
1near as practicable to the location of the adversely impacted wetland. AB426 weakens
these protections and allows mitigation to include purchases of credits from a mitigation
bank located anywhere in the state.
These provisions are unacceptable for ensuring water quality in the Lake Superior
basin. Wetlands outside the basin cannot perform critical ecological functions for Lake
Superior. No net loss of wetlands should be allowed to occur within the basin, and that
any mitigation should happen on site, or as near as practicable to the location of the
adversely impacted wetland, as is currently the law.
Regulation of Mining Waste
Mining operations produce waste in the form of overburden, tailings, and waste
rock. SB1/AB1 eliminates a requirement that a mine waste facility, where practicable,
should be located so that tailings pipelines do not cross any major watercourse or pass
through any wetland. I am concerned that this would put watercourses and wetlands at
SB1/AB1 allows for mining waste to be put in places where the DNR determines
that there is a reasonable probability that the waste will result in a violation of surface
water or groundwater quality standards. This violates the core Zero Toxic Discharge
principle that both surface water and groundwater quality must be protected from toxic
SB1/AB1 does not allow the DNR to continuously and responsibly inspect and
monitor a mining waste site to ensure public and environmental health. Specifically, the
bill does not expressly authorize the department to monitor the site or facility. The bill
eliminates a provision requiring the submission of water elevation measurements and
sampling and requiring specified types of groundwater sampling. The bills remove
recordkeeping requirements for monitoring a ferrous mineral surface mine that is
backfilled with mining waste. These provisions could affect water quality, which cannot
be ensured without responsible monitoring.
Water quality objectives that are developed for any proposed mine site in the
Lake Superior basin should be consistent with the goals and objectives developed for the
LaMP. Technologies and practices that adequately contain and recycle waste water and
remove or encase toxic material and excessive sediment need to be implemented. Current
Wisconsin rules require that water runoff from a mining site be managed to prevent soil
erosion, flooding, damage to agricultural lands or livestock, damage to wild animals,
pollution of ground or surface waters, damage to public health, and threats to public
safety. SB1/AB1 would change this, so that only erosion control and storm water are
managed. This is a problem, because water runoff requires close management to prevent
flooding, wildlife damage, pollution of ground or surface waters, and damage to public
health and threats to public safety.
Shoreland and Floodplain Zoning
Wisconsin's current shoreland and floodplain zoning programs establish setback,
grading, and other parameters for land located within 1000 feet of a navigable lake, pond,
or flowage, and 300 feet from a navigable river or stream. These zoning programs are
essential for protecting water quality and riparian habitat within the Lake Superior basin.
SB1/AB1 exempts ferrous mining activities from floodplain and shoreland zoning
ordinances. Specifically, the bills provide that the DNR may not prohibit a waste site,
structure, building, fill, or other development or construction activity in an area that
would otherwise be prohibited under a shoreland or floodplain zoning ordinance, if the
activity is authorized as part of a ferrous mining permit. Finally, the bills specify that an
applicant for a ferrous mining permit need not obtain a variance from floodplain or
shoreland zoning ordinance for such activities." In other words, tailing and waste might
be located within a floodplain or riparian area, without any variance required. These
provisions are not consistent with the LaMP.
Grounds for Denial
Current law requires the DNR to deny an application for a mining permit if the
mining operation is reasonably expected to cause " substantial deposition in stream or
lake beds that cannot be feasibly prevented; or 4) the destruction or filling in of a lake
bed." SB1/AB1 weakens these grounds for denial. Deposition, destruction, or filling in of
stream or lake beds are inconsistent with the LaMP and should continue to be grounds for
denial of a mining permit.
Past mining history along Lake Superior shows that decades after mines have
ceased to operate, mine waste in various forms has remained a potential source of
contaminants to the environment. SB1/AB1 would reduce a mine operator’s obligation to
provide proof of financial responsibility for long-term care of a mining waste site. This
provision could undermine future compliance with LaMP goals and objectives.
Citizen representation and oversight
Citizen participation and oversight is at the core of sustainable development.
SB1/AB1 would weaken Local Citizen Committees and eliminate Citizen Suits and
Contested Case. Restricting the rights of citizens and local communities is not consistent
with the existing Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
Wisconsin mining regulations must remain consistent with the Binational
Program, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the Lakewide Area Management
Plan, and the principles of the Zero Toxic Discharge Demonstration Program. Mining
projects should not be exempted from adherence to environmental regulations. The law
should continue to require that permitting authorities be provided with ample evidence of
the feasibility and effectiveness of proposed protections to water quality before approving
Nancy Langston N5929 Schneeberger Rd, Albany WI 53502