The ongoing irony of Wisconsin’s open-pit iron mine law

Speaking of iron mines and irony, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board today published an editorial claiming, yet again, that there is nothing wrong with GTAC’s proposed iron strip mine in the Penokee Hills of Wisconsin and the Republican’s iron mining bill that a little “tweaking” won’t fix. After noting that, as expected, the feds will not honor the iron mine bill’s timeline and noting the opposition of the rather staid Wisconsin Wildlife Federation to the iron mining bill as written, the JS editorial board concludes that only more tweaking is necessary:

“We’re not convinced repeal [of the bill] is necessary; we did support aspects of the bill that was approved last year, although we also argued that the final product left many things to be desired. Among those things was a processing deadline that did not adequately take into account the federal process. What good does it do a mine developer to have a quicker state process if it’s not coordinated with the federal process?”

Of course, the bill, written specifically for and with the help of GTAC, is not the worst aspect of this issue; a bill is a piece of paper, and this bill all along was a desperate attempt by job-mongering Madison Republicans to create a scaled-back regulatory scheme for iron mining  that has little to do with ecological reality. What good does it do to write a bill to create a safe, clean mine that thanks to the mine’s size, depth and geology will never be safe and clean?

But ecological reality has yet to be defeated and eventually wins out over the denial of human beings, though some of us take longer to get the message than others. And so the timely irony of the news that, as the Journal Sentinel reports today,  a new Wisconsin DNR report is pointing out the ecologically obvious– the proposed humongous strip/open-pit mine has some potentially serious side-effects, among them acid mine drainage, mercury pollution, a toxic threat to wild rice, “asbestos-like” mineral fibers in rock, and the lowering of groundwater in the area. This DNR analysis, reporter Lee Bergquist makes clear, is not a position statement on whether or not to build the mine, but simply a scientifically based statement of what is likely, ecologically speaking, to occur. All this is old news to conservationists who have spoken against the mine and/or the Republican bill at public hearings.

It turns out, however, that the report was not officially released by the DNR; it was unofficially released or “leaked”, according to the conservative Media Trackers, to Media Trackers, though the scenario as presented on the MT website clearly shows the report was a final version ready for informal release that was indeed informally released, if not directly to the media and general public.

Media Trackers claims the report is “flawed” and “biased” and “a sort of anti-mining manifesto.” You can read both the DNR report and the MT version of reality and judge for yourself. But the MT criticism focuses not on what the report actually says regarding the potential Penokee Hills mine, but on two academic scientists (whose research contributed to the report) and some rather erroneous material. MT claims the scientists are biased because the two have spoken out, as scientists, on the ecological effects of such mines. And the DNR report is flawed, says MT, because it did not include information from EIS reports prepared for Minnesota mines. (???)

One wonders what it will take, short of actually building the pitiful pit, to convince some in Wisconsin that the mining bill (and the whole idea of the mine itself) should be repealed. Must we always first do stupid environmental things before we learn to do the right thing, usually at great public expense?

I’ll end this post with an old song about what was lost to strip mining in Paradise, Kentucky.

Update: See James Rowen’s good post on the same issue right here.

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