What was going to be a review of the Wisconsin’s mining regulations as opposed to discussing an individual mining project became a discussion of Gtac’s project. The committee quickly began discussing Gogebic Taconite’s Penokee Hills Mining proposal. Seven and one/half Wisconsin Senators listened and asked questions after the three invited speakers made their presentations. Dr. Tom Evans reviewed Wisconsin’s history and held this reporter’s full attention for the better part of two hours. (Dr. Evans testimony may be read here.) Rebecca Grasser, Corps of Engineers, and Ann Coakley from the Wisconsin DNR, filled out the rest of the day with their presentations to the Senate Mining Committee.
Committee members directed questions to each speaker as they finished. Six of the 7 one/half asked pertinent questions. Senator Erpenbach and Senator Schultz’s questions were to the point and good questions. Senator’s Cullen, Jauch, Holperin and Lehman offered comments and asked the presenters good questions. Six people who are honestly wrestling with the facts and searching for the illusive idea of “responsible mining”.
The hot button topic was the time it takes to open a mine \and how the time factor could be shortened, a specific concern of GTac. AB 426 addressed time lines that practically assured they would have e go ahead to begin mining. AB 426 is not dead yet – Walker, Senator Scott Fitzgerald, WMC, Time Sullivan, Wisconsin Mining Association and the boys for GTac are already assuring each other AB 426 will be introduced early next year and this time the bill will pass. It may have a different name, but the content will be the same.
Listening to the discussion it was obvious that the time required to open a mine depends the mine and the scope of the project. The location of the project and its impact on the ecosystem, the infrastructure needed to support the project, and impact on water resources. The answers may require extensive study and research, which under current law is paid by the permit seeker. AB 426 caps the cost that can be charges to a company for information gathering. At this point there are two more hearings scheduled. The invited speakers will be given the opportunity to address the Senate mining committee and questions will be asked. If the next two committee meetings are as productive as this first committee hearing, it will be helpful as the Senate Select Committee begins to deliberate on they should proceed.
The committee size at 7 and one/half members accounts for Senator Glenn Grothman as a ½ member. He showed up late and left early. In addition he left the hearing multiple times and spent way to much time engrossed on what must have been text messages to his cell phone. The few questions he did ask were thinly disguised attempts to minimize the scope of GTac’s project. However, Grothman’s behavior was overshadowed by the "I refuse to accept the facts" Mary Lazich. This Senator simply did not have the capacity to understand how GTac’s project includes manufacturing taconite pellets, an open pit strip mine that will require the removal of the tops of the Penokee Hills. Lazich chose to not even try. She referenced “a constituent” who must have convinced her Jackson County Lake Wazee mine is no different that Penokee Hills project. Unfortunately Senator Lazich does not have the capacity or the interest to actually listen and learn. WE find it difficult that Senator Mark Miller appointed her to the committee. WE are not surprised that the Republican under the misguided leadership of Scott Miller proposed placing Lazich on this very important committee.
This committee is certainly much better prepared and the Chair, Senator Tim Cullen, kept the questions flowing and provided the leadership that was lacking under the Assembly committee chaired by Mary Williams. It is unfortunate dark clouds of concern and the suspicious “leaking of letters” from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the proclamation by Tim Sullivan that a new mining bill will pass early next year, has stained the committee. Tim Sullivan has described this mine as “digging a ditch” for whatever the reason has earned the trust of at least one member of the committee and WE expect Senators Lazich and Grothman will follow along.