AB1/SB1 "screams for the project's outright denunciation” 01.31.13

Read the article on line   - "Journal Sentinel should take tougher stand on mine*

By James Rowen

Jan. 31, 2013 6:35 p.m.

After much back and forth on the merits and gaps in an iron mining bill being rushed to adoption by the GOP-controlled state Legislature, the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board Sunday found too many flaws in the bill (written by mining insiders) to support it - and, in its own words, "leans toward" (now there's a modifier) an alternative proposal by Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) unless the GOP bill is repaired.

But it still says the mine is "necessary."

The editorial is weak tea further diluted by these two problems:

  • There is not a word in the editorial about the bill's specific impact on, or the position taken against it by, the Bad River Band of Ojibwe, whose waters and wild-rice culture are close to and downstream from the proposed mine site.

This is a significant piece of the issue, as the Ojibwe have treaty-conferred sovereign status and rights that should be right up there in the discussion along with jobs, environmental issues and other legal and procedural matters.

The band's statement against the mine was presented to Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, has been reproduced often.

And the newspaper posted a recent videotaped interview about the mine with Bad River Chairman Mike Wiggins Jr.

Is the band's position and absence from Sunday's editorial a statement that the Editorial Board was unmoved by the interview? That would be distressing.

  • The editorial mentions the mine's length, but more description is needed. This is to be an open pit project four miles long, 700 to 1,000 feet deep and a half-mile wide or more that would replace a range of pristine hills at the headwaters of the Bad River close to Lake Superior.

The iron ore is beneath millions of tons of rock that contain sulfides that can produce acid and toxic runoff when exposed to the air. And the ore runs for 22 miles total.

Walker keeps linking the proposed mine to the state's mining heritage as stitched into the state flag - a misleading reference to a 19th-century era of smaller, hand-hewn mines that predate today's modern, mountaintop removing through blasting, dragline excavating and oversized truck hauling.

The location and scope and context of the project, if more fully and fairly discussed, should do more than suggest leaning toward a different bill.

It screams for the project's outright denunciation.

The Editorial Board is right that the bill has too many flaws - and the editorial does a good job laying out how the bill creates special and unacceptable exemptions from environmental law and protections - but what the board wants is a mine sited where the Penokee Hills stand and just upstream from where people live and grow wild rice on the water.

When all is said and done, the editorial still backs a large-scale hammering of a square peg into a round hole.

The iron ore in question and the mine site proposed are factually and fatally incompatible with their location.

James Rowen is a political writer and environmental consultant. He blogs at "The Political Environment" at Purple Wisconsin (www.jsonline.com/purplewi