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Bad River Chippewa Against Proposed Mining Legislation in Wisconsin

by on January 8, 2012
 

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are working, along with several NGOs, to stop a controversial mining bill that would gut existing environmental protections and effectively silence the public in order to streamline mining projects in the state of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin State Assembly Bill 426 looks like it could’ve come straight from former Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s waste basket, for all the good it would do. The 183-page bill wants to:

  • Allow for the destruction of high quality wetlands
  • Allow mining waste to be deposited in floodplains and on the shores of lakes and rivers
  • Remove the right of citizens’ to sue for illegal environmental damage by a mine
  • Prohibit the DNR from monitoring mine waste sites or facilities, stopping work at a mine if there are permit violations or pollution, or making mine companies pay fines for those violations.
  • Force the DNR to make a decision on a mining permit within 360 days, otherwise it is automatically approved.

In a December 13 position statement, the Bad River Tribal Council puts the bill into perspective:

The legislation is apparently no more than a Christmas gift to a single out of state investor who owns GTAC and who wants to weaken Wisconsin’s mining and environmental laws to make huge profits for himself at the expense of Wisconsin citizens and Native Americans. This is the worst kind of legislation, as it is being rushed through without responsible consideration and without public hearings on the proposed bill in the areas of the state that will be most directly affected by it. Moreover, it has been drafted with no meaningful consultation with affected Indian Tribes or other interested parties.

Back in September, the Band released a 10-point statement of principles and provisions they want to see included in any proposed changes to Wisconsin’s mining laws, specifically concerning iron or taconite mining.

“The principles established by the Bad River Band are sensible, justifiable, common sense guidance for legislators considering changes to the mining law to benefit just one company, Gogebic Taconite (GTAC),” said Shahla Werner from the Sierra Club.

A photo of Michigan’s Empire Taconite Mine, which spans a mile across and 1,200 feet down.GTAC, of course, is pushing for a massive 20-mile long, 1/3 mile deep open-pit iron mine an arm’s stretch away from the Bad River Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin.

Taconite mining is notorious for being the second largest source of mercury emissions next to coal power plants. As a former supporter of the GTAC mine explained in May 2011,

“GTAC will make our fish inedible (fisherman take heed), kill our wild rice (duck hunters and ricers take heed), sterilize our rivers and lakes (water enthusiasts take heed). Have I got your attention?

“Even though taconite mining is not sulfide mining it still creates a sulfide and mercury pollution cycle. This cycle is unequivocally incompatible with fresh water. When sulfates enter the water they are acted on by a sulfide eating bacteria that turns mercury into methyl-mercury. This is the kind of mercury that gets transferred up the food chain and accumulates in the tissue of fish. It is the kind of mercury that turns into ‘do not eat fish from this body of water’ warnings.”

As shocking as that may be, GTAC’s impact on the Chippewa would be far worse.

In their December 13 position statement, the Tribal Council stated, “… it is clear, based on available geologic and environmental information, that such a mine cannot be developed and operated using current mining technologies and practices without destroying the environmental quality, including the air, lands and forests, wetlands, streams, and rivers of the Bad River watershed, the Bad River Indian Reservation, and Lake Superior. The Bad River watershed is a pristine environmental resource, and the Band’s way of life is highly dependent upon maintaining the health and integrity of the watershed. The proposed GTAC iron mine would destroy the Bad River watershed and the Band’s way of life.

However, the main thing right now is stopping Assembly Bill 426.

For people in the US, the Sierra Club has set up a page to urge legislators to oppose the bill.

If anyone else wants to speak out, they can send an email the main authors of the bill:

  • Sen.Kedzie@legis.wisconsin.gov – Senator Neal Kedzie (SD 11, Elkhorn), the lead bill author and chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee
  • Sen.Schultz@legis.wisconsin.gov – Sen. Dale Schultz (SD 17, Richland Center), a lead bill author
  • Rep.Mursau@legis.wisconsin.gov – Rep. Jeffrey Mursau (AD 36, Crivitz), a lead bill author and chair of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources

The Sierra Club is also urging people to attend public hearings that are coming up later this week!

Assembly Committee on Natural Resources
Tuesday, January 10, 2012, 10:30 AM
Public Hearing on AB 463,
Wetlands Deregulation Bill
State Capitol Room 412 East

Senate Natural Resources
and Environment Committee
Thursday, January 12th, 1:00 PM
Public Hearing on SB 368, Wetlands Deregulation Bill
State Capitol Room 411 South

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