, , , , , , ,

Tribal Leaders, Environmental Groups Urge Lawmakers To Drop Mining Bill

Sponsor Of Pro-Mining Bill Suggests Previous Lawmakers 'Got It Wrong'

Flambeau Mine
The Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, shown in a photo taken in 1997. The operation is the only sulfide mine permitted by the state in the last 40 years. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (CC-BY-ND)

Another Wisconsin tribal leader is speaking against a pro-mining bill that’s moving through the Legislature.

The measure would remove a 20-year-old requirement that owners of a proposed sulfide mine have to prove similar mines elsewhere haven’t caused problems before the state Department of Natural Resources could grant a permit. The current law is sometimes referred to as a “mining moratorium.”

Menominee Nation Chairman Gary Besaw told a hearing held Friday by the Assembly Labor Committee that even financial amendments to the bill recently approved by a state Senate committee don’t ease his concerns.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“You can shave a wolf, you can paint a wolf, but guess what? You still have a wolf there. We can’t do that to our future,” Besaw said, adding that the bill could open the door to pollution from mines across northern Wisconsin.

But a lawyer representing a Canadian mining firm and statewide business groups testified in favor of the measure, saying mine owners would still have to meet Wisconsin environmental regulations before winning approval.

The hearing also provided a lighter moment that included a Republican sponsor of the new measure addressing the fact that Republican lawmakers, including then-Rep. Scott Walker, helped pass the moratorium bill in 1998, and former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson signed it into law.

State Sen. Tom Tiffany speaks at a news conference in Madison. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, co-sponsor of the bill along with Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, went on to say the Legislature doesn’t always get things right.

“I wouldn’t be the first to acknowledge that legislatures can be wrong, depending on what year and depending on what issue,” Hutton said to mild laughter, adding, “There are a number of things we do that with the best intentions that we look back in hindsight and say maybe that wasn’t the best policy or best law.”

Hutton said the new mining bill would boost economic development.

The Senate Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry Committee approved the bill last week.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:38 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 with original reporting from WPR.