Gogebic Taconite’s abrupt decision to pull the plug on its proposed mining project in Northern Wisconsin has created political controversy that will likely lead to many months of political finger pointing. It is important we do not lose sight of what we learned from the company’s decision: It never had any intention to mine responsibly in Wisconsin.
Instead, the company tried to change our laws so it could profit by taking shortcuts and risks. When it was unsuccessful in eliminating environmental protections, it called it quits. Time after time, Gogebic Taconite gave Wisconsin residents reason not to trust the company, with executives saying one thing, but doing another.
In January of last year, corporate executives stood in front of Northwoods residents in Ashland and said they would not seek changes to Wisconsin’s mining laws. Four months later, a 186-page bill clearly written by the company began circulating in the Capitol that would have gutted the environmental review and public input process for iron mine applications.
The open-pit mining bill did not receive a warm reception. Through polls and at hearings across the state, one point became very clear: Wisconsin residents strongly oppose weakening environmental protections for mining. Even mine supporters spoke in opposition to the bill. Despite strong opposition, Assembly Republicans passed the bill, putting the future of the mining law in the Senate’s hands.
Were it not for the bipartisan leadership of Senators Dale Schultz and Bob Jauch, the open-pit mining bill would have passed and become law. Fortunately, these senators recognized the dangerous implications, listened to the voice of the people, and drafted an alternative. Their version gave the mining company the timeline certainty it asked for publicly without weakening environmental protections. Unfortunately, Senate leadership and the mining company were unwilling to compromise.
When it became clear the company’s attempt to use legislators as political pawns would fail, Gogebic Taconite pulled the plug on the project, blaming opponents of the bill for their decision.
Let us step back and remember why we have mining laws in the first place. A poorly vetted mine could devastate our beloved Northwoods, destroy sacred lands and permanently scar our landscape and way of life. We all want more jobs, but we can also agree that jobs should not come at the expense of clean drinking water and invaluable natural resources. The 17 senators who voted against the bill deserve our thanks, not the blame for Gogebic Taconite’s departure. They chose to leave the state because it had no interest in responsibly mining here.
Mark Redsten, Executive Director Clean Wisconsin