Sunday, February 24, 2013

Journal Sentinel Underwhelms With Pro-Mine Editorial

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has produced a Sunday editorial generally supportive of a bill that rewrites significant portions of Wisconsin law to enable an iron ore mine in Northern Wisconsin.

You can read it here, and, to be fair, I will also reproduce it in text below.

Some quick reactions:

*  The editorial board says it hopes the GOP legislative leadership does not rush the bill through to passage without fair consideration of sound amendments.

In fact, that has been exactly what has been happening because the bill is Scott Walker's #1 priority, and he and the GOP are still smarting over the bill's defeat last year.

On the matter of credible consideration of substantial changes, ask Democratic State Sen. Tim Cullen how his alternative proposal, created with public and scientific input, fared in final bill drafting.

And there would be little need for amendments if the bill-drafting process hadn't been open to the mining company and closed to officials and experts representing environmental issues and Native Americans living downstream from the mine site with a water-based rice-growing culture.

* The editorial does not state the dimensions of the mine, which are, in phase one 4.5 miles long, a half-mile wide and 1,000 feet deep. The mine could eventually stretch to 22 miles long. For comparison's sake, it is less than 4.5 miles from UW-Milwaukee to City Hall downtown, or from Madison's City Hall to the Oscar Mayer plant.

Open pit mining by the multiple mile, after removing the pristine Penokee Hills that rise to about 1,200 feet, needs to be imagined:

File:Kittilla, Finland; Open Pit Mine.jpg

*  The editorial board expresses faith that the DNR staff can consider a mining permit without caving to political pressures.

Where is the evidence for such a statement? Remember that the DNR did not even let its in-house wolf expert testify at hearings on the wolf hunt. And where is any DNR assessment of the acid mine drainage matter, since the agency has known since 2010 that this bill, like its earlier iteration, was coming?

Moreover, why should it even be necessary to worry that political pressures might be brought to bear on the DNR?

I'll tell you why: Because the redefinition of the DNR as business-friendly was made clear from the outset by Walker and the Department's charter-status reorganization.

And because the politicization of the current DNR management team has been intentional from the beginning, from Gov. Walker's selection of DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp for her "chamber-of-commerce mentality," to additional key senior appointments given to people with previous experience at major trade associations.

*  The editorial board accepts the inflation of potential jobs related in one way or another to the iron ore mine from the initial figure of 700 to 5,000 - - but does not cite any hard evidence, or any outside and independent estimates beyond statements from mining supporters.

You'd think the Walker administration's well-documented failure to come remotely close after two years to its 250,000 new-private-jobs' pledge would give thoughtful people pause about accepting additional job predictions from Walker or his supporters - - and in this case, a company whose officials have donated generously to his campaign - - without citing unbiased, supporting documentation or expert opinion, at a minimum.

*  The editorial board noted the bill retains a public hearing in the mining permitting process, but  does not acknowledge that the bill erases the hearing's power.

That's because the bill re-positions the hearing from early in the process, where the mining company has to document its claims - - under oath - - to the tail end and after a DNR ruling.

In other words, the hearing becomes pro forma - - like the hearings held before the Legislature's mining committees a couple of weeks ago where the overwhelming anti-mining registrations will be ignored, testimony was cut off before all in attendance had spoken, and where emailed comments in place of in-person registrations were left out of the official report.

It's inadequate and dismissive to say, as does the editorial, "We think the important thing is to have a hearing," as if that covers the issue.

*  The editorial board cites the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce's Scott Manley's interpretation of the bill's environmental strength the editorial board carried at length last week (without noting that Manley is a paid lobbyist, and as a WMC vice-president, a very powerful individual in the lead engine driving this train), and offered this observation about environmental standards and their preservation by the bill that has a maddening circularity:

Manley also argued that the legislation does not relax any environmental standards. That's true, but it's also irrelevant if the legislation allows the company to elude meeting those standards through exemptions. Some exemptions may be warranted in limited cases, but there can't be so many that the result is significant harm to the environment.
The entire point of the law, the entire reason to let the company help write the bill is to provide exemptions, and that is why, I'd predict, that among its major and fatal weaknesses is the bill's goal to exempt the mining operation from the Public Trust Doctrine - - a set of protections for the protection of the state's interconnected waters that are defined as public rights in the State Constitution.

*  The editorial board offers one line near the end addressing the Bad River Ojibwe Band's "serious opposition" to the bill. I am glad to see that acknowledgment. It had been missing from earlier editorial board commentary, but I would suggest that a single line about the Band's relationship to the issue that does not include the word "treaty" falls short of serious consideration for serious opposition.

All in all - - an underwhelming editorial. GOP legislators and the Governor will not have any problem with it.
Our View | Mining

Mining bill getting closer to what it needs to be

If the final result does what its proponents say it will do, the bill deserves approval by the Legislature.

Legislation aimed at easing the permitting process for an iron mine is expected to be approved by a key committee this week and will probably hit the floors of both the state Assembly and state Senate.
If the final result does what its proponents say it does - simplify the process while still protecting the environment - the bill deserves approval by the Legislature.
That's still a pretty big if, but changes made to the bill in the last several weeks are encouraging, and there's a good chance some legislators will attempt to add more safeguards. They deserve a fair hearing; we hope the Republican majority - which has made this measure its No. 1 priority in jobs bills - doesn't rush the bill through at the expense of sound amendments.
We also hope the bill is not so tightly drawn that it takes decision-making and discretion out of the hands of the professionals in the state Department of Natural Resources, which will be responsible for issuing the permit. The DNR should be trusted to deny or issue the permit based on the best data available and the best judgment of its employees.
We also think these professionals are more than capable of resisting any political pressures that might be brought to bear during the permitting process.
The bill's basic purpose is to open the door to Gogebic Taconite to build a $1.5 billion iron mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The company has said it needs changes in the regulatory process to provide it with more certainty so it can move ahead with the initial multimillion-dollar permitting process.
In a live online chat with members of the Editorial Board and public last week, Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a supporter of the bill, said the project would create nearly 5,000 jobs: 2,000 jobs to construct the mine, 700 mining jobs on site and another 2,100 jobs to support the mining activity.
Not all of those would be long-term jobs and not all would be in northern Wisconsin, but the mine would still have a significant impact on one of the poorest regions of the state.

The legislation is heading in the right direction. Among the amendments adopted by the Assembly and Senate mining committees were measures to:
  • Require the DNR to try to reach a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to improve the chances the two agencies would work together to review a mining permit.
  • Allow regulators and the company to establish a longer time frame than the bill's 420 days if all parties agree. There should be some additional leeway here for the DNR to act on a longer time frame.
  • Require more testing of waste rock in the hope of identifying runoff from sulfide minerals that could harm groundwater or local streams. Sulfides interacting with air and water can be the source of acid mine drainage.
  • Add stronger language designed to encourage the creation of new wetlands in the same watershed if wetlands are destroyed.
Republicans also adjusted the bill to limit the ability of mining companies to fill waterways, though Democrats said tougher protections were needed. A 2-acre pond could still be filled with rock, they said.
In addition, the bill does allow for a quasijudicial procedure called a contested case hearing after the DNR makes its decision. That was a major bone of contention and remains one this year with critics arguing for a hearing before the process is complete. We think the important thing is to have a hearing.
These are all good steps that strengthen the bill. We may see more this week. And we hope they address the concerns of the Bad River band of Chippewa who live downstream from the mine and who have raised serious objections.
But the bottom line is that we agree with the proponents that a bill can be created that will ease the way for a mine and still protect the environment. This bill may not be there yet, but it's getting close.


Anonymous said...

The bill is fine and it is time to pass it and get moving. The Indians will never be satisfied so why even try? They keep talking about sovereign nation status and wanting to be treated as such, well the state of Wisconsin is not a sovereign nation and so has no interest in making agreements between nations, which should be left up to the US government. The legislators of the state of Wisconsin should just worry about the state of Wisconsin, which the Indians do not want to be considered a part of. They aren’t sitting around worrying about what Canada thinks of it either, so just pass the damn bill.

Anonymous said...

The bill will pass and the fix is in. The DNR will certify that there are no changes to water quality being made to the surrounding waters at the site of the mine so there will be no need for the tribe to certify that these non-changes comply with their water quality standards miles down stream. The drilling will begin soon.

Sue said...

Typical JS Editorial Board nonsense: "We're for this even though we're concerned because we just KNOW everyone is going to behave!" I still remember how surprised they were when Walker killed the train bill. But... but...
And I note they haven't picked up on, or choose not to pick up on, how this might affect the rest of the state. Think 'business friendly' legislation is just for the northwoods? If there's money to be made on something, it's coming to a water supply near you, and just try to stop it once the precedent has been set.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sue. It's very important to imagine the mine in your own backyard because the bill lowers barriers and lowers standards for the whole state.

Dennis Grzezinski said...

AB1/SB1 specifically denies DNR any ability to impose conditions on high capacity wells for any iron mining facility or operation that would limit or fail to meet the mine's need for water -- even if the mine's withdrawals would impact residential or municipal water supply wells. The DNR is empowered to protect only "privately owned high capacity wells". An iron mining company may have to provide an alternate water supply for residential or municipal wells, after it impacts or even runs them dry, but the bill clearly and explicitly denies DNR the power to protect those wells in the first place, if doing so would limit water supplies for the mine. (check pages 160-164 of the bill, and ask other environmental attorneys if what I'm telling you is not correct).

People should read the mining bill, and the Leg Council summary of it, before accepting Gogebic Taconite and WMC'stheir spokespeoples' trumpeting of the idea that the bill doesn't limit or reduce environmental protections.

And, how about the omnibus exemption provision on pages 125 and 126 of the bill, that allows the mining company to ask for exemptions from any (or all) of the environmental conditions or requirements in the bill during the application process, requires the DNR to decide on the exemption request within 15 days of receiving the request, and requires DNR to grant the exemption request if the company agrees to "mitigate" the environmental damage elsewhere? The end result is that in the final analysis, there is no protection whatsoever in the bill for any environmental resource anywhere at the "mining site,"so long as a mining company agrees to do something, even just constructing a pier or a road to provide access to a lake or river somewhere else. And, of course, the bill defines "mining site" to include anywhere that the mine, mining equipment, mining facilities, or mining wastes disturbs. That would seem to cover anywhere that they cause damage.

Yes, there are about 150 pages of words in the bill that talk about environmental conditions and protections, but the operative words that say what DNR is allowed to do, and when DNR is required to give approvals, strip the DNR of the power to say "no." The mining company wanted "certainty." Legislators allowed the company to write the bill, not just to have input into it, and the company wrote precisely the bill that they wanted. Folks should examine the bill itself to see whose interest it protects, and whose interests it ignores.

Anonymous said...

"The DNR will certify that there are no changes to water quality being made to the surrounding waters at the site of the mine"

That is too say, the DNR will be required by law to certify FALSELY that there are no changes to water quality.

Meanwhile, the pyrite deposites in the rock are still in there and cannot be wished away.

When you mix pyrite with water and expose to the air, you get sulfurous acid in the water. Water with sulfurous acid corrodes rock and leaches out lots of unpleasant metal ions from the rock, making the water poisonous.

This isn't rocket science. This is high school chemistry here.

Republican science denial and celebration of ignorance has very little further to go at this point.

Anonymous said...

You constantly prop up journal communications propaganda while pretending to be on the high-road for pointing out each and every pro-walker propaganda piece as if you are somehow doing us a great service yet you NEVER call out the big picture.

Journal Communications serves as a disinformation vehicle and a main player in a dysfunctional media echo-chamber that exists to prop up radical extremist economic policies, economic terrorism, and, in this case, ecological devastation.

By not calling out the company and real news vacuum for their consistent misinformation and outright lies, you are part of the legitimization of the entirely GOP/walker circle jerk that does not seek to inform and abuses the lies that the public was taught in school -- "objective journalism" does not exist.

Today, journalism is entirely disconnected from truth and is only about creating false dichotomy and regurgitating talking points.

Perhaps you can increase your pageviews by pretending to be the voice of reason, but your silence and complicity in the lie that Wisconsin's media would do anything but prop up walker and the koch brothers agenda is as much a problem as walker himself.

scott walker would be a nobody without the media propaganda -- corporate interests you are in-bed with and it shows.

Jake formerly of the LP said...

You gotta read between the lines here. This is a classic case where the J-S editorial board knows the reasons behind the mine are BS, but the MMAC and HMC has ordered them not to speak up against it.

And given that when the MMAC tells the J-S to jump, the J-S asks "How high?", this is sort of the code they give with garbage editorials like this. They know better, but don't have the guts to tell the truth to its readers.

Which is why I don't give them a dime.

Anonymous said...

Good editorial by the MJS, I think they fell short a little by suggesting that the bill isn’t adequate or that tribal concerns need to be addressed in the bill. The tribal concerns will be addressed during the permitting process and if there is adequate water quality protection upstream, then their concerns are being met. The bad river flows through miles of county forest, private lands and even a state park before reaching the reservation and these owners have even more reason to be concerned about water quality since they are closer to ground zero. The state of Wisconsin, EPA and Army corps of Engineers will all be ensuring that the water quality will be protected well before it reaches the reservation. This is a very responsible bill with many layers of environmental protections included and no actual water quality standards are being changed. Responsible legislators who hold the interests of the state of Wisconsin in greater esteem than partisan politics will vote it in.

Anonymous said...

"Good editorial by the MJS, I think they fell short a little by suggesting that the bill isn’t adequate or that tribal concerns need to be addressed in the bill."

You can repeat this as many times as Mr. Rowen will let you, but it won't make it true.

The only way to address the tribe;s concerns is to proceed with the permitting process VERY carefully, and with no deadline. The only way to operate this mine without acid drainage hitting the river is to do groundwater migration studies at the site, and those will take years, something the new process will not allow.

It's really dismaying to see you GOP shills come here again and again with nothing but lies.

You guys really should visit MIT or Caltech some time. Those used to be GOP-friendly places. Nowadays you'd be greeted with tar and feathers. And things like this are the reason why.