A lot of so-called conservatives have taken to talk radio airwaves and opinion pages recently to push dramatic changes in Wisconsin’s mine-permitting process. Mining advocates are proud to tout their economic development bona fides, but in a blind rush to start digging in Northern Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills, they are actually losing credibility with many conservatives across the state. I am one of them.
I had the privilege of growing up “Up North” where I developed an independent Northwoods mindset and a deep appreciation for our state’s natural resources. While I usually identify as Republican, I am writing to break from the lockstep march Wisconsin’s GOP establishment has come to represent over the last year, currently epitomized by the race to alter our decades-old mining law in the name of short-term job creation.
Creating great jobs across the state needs be a top priority. Some future jobs may come from the mining sector, but the open-pit mine proposed in Iron and Ashland counties deserves close scrutiny and a comprehensive permitting process. Wisconsin conservatives should embrace the time-tested procedure already in place. Not only is this project the first of its kind proposed in Wisconsin, its location near the headwaters of the Bad River places the utmost importance on safeness.
The current proposal will virtually flatten the Penokee Hills by excavating a 22-mile long, 1,000-feet deep, and up to 1.5-mile wide pit. This isn’t your grandfather’s mine. On a recent visit to the Penokee Hills with a childhood friend who works at the nonprofit, Clean Wisconsin, I snowshoed to one of several pre-glacial gorges where world-class trout streams cross the range. I observed the bubbling headwaters of the 76-mile long Bad River at Caroline Lake, just a few miles from the wetlands where the proposed mine’s tailings-leftover, non-iron minerals-are to be deposited. I drove 25 miles downstream through the Bad River watershed to Lake Superior, passing by homes and farmsteads, state parks and hunting lands. I was stunned by the Penokee Hills’ important role in influencing the flow and connectivity of the region’s wetlands and waterways all the way down to the Great Lake.
As a conservative, I believe society prospers when we operate with a strong moral order and shared sense of right and wrong. After visiting the region, I know it would be wrong to risk this important watershed without first conducting a proper permitting process. And I’m not alone in this judgment: Public Policy Polling reported last week that only one-third of Wisconsinites want to simplify our mine permitting process.
Now it’s our turn. Let’s slow down, study hard and consider all the environmental and economic costs and benefits of the proposed Penokee Hills mine before taking action-exactly what Wisconsin’s current permitting process achieves.
There is too much at stake to rush.
Adam Schmidt, Milwaukee