Friday, December 16, 2011

Fresh Information About The Assembly's Rigged Mining Hearing

I posted some strong words about the disrespectful hearing on mining that the Wisconsin Assembly foisted on the public Wednesday:

I have attended public meetings for roughly 40 years - - often as a journalist or public official - -  and I have never seen a hearing as flagrantly disrespectful to citizens and policy-making, and to the entire notion of The Wisconsin Idea - - broadly defined as Wisconsin government existing to serve the people  - -  as the State Assembly committee session held at State Fair Park Wednesday on the fast-tracked mining bill.
That one lowered the bar to ground level. 
I was writing about the legislators' schedule and bill-writing tricks, but water expert Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeeper let me know in a comment on my posting that I had not given the fullest picture of the hearing's phoniness:
The other amazing thing (which I had not experienced before) was complete disregard for letting people testify in the order in which they arrived/registered. Pro mine lobbyists who arrived at 3 were able to speak. I signed up at ten and was never called to speak.
December 15, 2011 4:19 PM
But you know what? I'd posted an advance copy of Nenn's prepared remarks, so let me pass them along again so that Assembly members - - and other attendees with more open minds - - might see what they missed.
Comments on Wisconsin Assembly Mining Bill (LRB 3520/1) Wednesday, December 14, 2011 Tommy Thompson Youth Center, State Fair Park, Milwaukee

My name is Cheryl Nenn, and I’m speaking on behalf of Milwaukee Riverkeeper. Milwaukee Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting water quality and wildlife habitat in the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic River Watersheds.

We oppose Assembly Mining Bill (LRB 3520/1), which is the latest in a series of bills that weaken environmental and health protections and prevent the public from holding polluters accountable.

While seemingly written at the behest of an out-of-state mining company proposing a strip mine of unprecedented size up north, this bill will apply to iron mines throughout the state and could result in mining proposals in our watershed.

Perhaps of most concern is the way that this Assembly Mining Bill was written behind closed doors by mining companies and the process by which it is being rammed through the legislature.

At the same time, this bill takes away the voice of Wisconsin citizens to contest future projects that could affect the safety of their drinking water, and their ability to fish, swim, and enjoy their local waterways so a mining company can make a buck.

We are very concerned that LRB 3520/1 eliminates all opportunities for citizens and experts to question or contest the information submitted by a mining company, to request contested case hearings challenging DNR’s approval of their permits, or to challenge DNR’s enforcement of environmental laws.

LRB 3520/1curtails the ability of the communities impacted by a mine to enforce their own zoning requirements or to negotiate for conditions to protect themselves, which sets a very bad precedent not only for this legislation but for future bills.

The Assembly Mining Bill elevates mining above all other industries and businesses in the state, applying special rules that allow mines to bypass the environmental and public health requirements that apply to everyone else.

In fact, the bill mandates that if there is a conflict between the proposed mining law and other environmental laws, the mining law trumps environmental laws. This is all fine and good, until someone’s drinking water or right to use their lake or river is put at risk.

And this is likely, given that LRB 3520/1 allows mine wastes to be piled next to rivers and lakes, in floodplains and areas where groundwater contamination is likely and surface water contamination is probable.

LRB 3520/1 requires DNR to allow wetlands to be filled, even the most critically important wetlands, as long as the mining company provides “mitigation” anywhere else in the state.

Man can not create wetlands that nature has created over thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years.

Constructed wetlands do not function like natural wetlands to store, infiltrate, and clean runoff or absorb runoff to minimize downstream flooding.

Protection of wetlands is the most cost-effective flood management strategy that we have. To allow constructed wetlands to be placed outside of the affected watershed means the local community affected by a mining project will not be protected from the water quality or flooding impacts of such projects.

This is completely unacceptable.

The Army Corps of Engineers has also said that such provisions would likely result in the Federal Government leaving the current joint permitting process for wetland impacts.

This would require mining companies to obtain separate Federal and State 404/401 permits (under the Clean Water Act), which would increase permitting times and not decrease them per the intent of this bill.
LRB 3520/1 requires DNR to permit structures and fill in waterways, to allow rivers to be altered, straightened, widened and dredged as long as it won’t “significantly” impair public rights, flood capacity, rights of riparian owners or water quality.

“Significantly” is not defined and open to interpretation.

In addition, the proposed changes removing citizen’s ability to contest permits means it will be much more difficult to question agency interpretations of whether or not mine projects impair local waterways.

This could result in more lawsuits in State courts and significantly delay projects.

LRB 3529/1 also requires DNR to allow wells or direct water withdrawals from rivers or lakes even if it will severely draw down groundwater, rivers or lakes because it is assumed that the needs of the mine are in the best interest of the public.

This also conflicts with provisions in the Clean Water Act. Water quality and water quantity are inextricably linked, and reductions in base flows can affect a stream’s physical, biological, and chemical integrity.

Reducing river flows, especially in sensitive headwater streams, affects water quality parameters such as bacteria, temperature, and sediment, and can alter stream habitats and their ability to support aquatic life and other designated uses that depend on stream flow. This provision could result in backsliding of water quality and lead to litigation.

The Assembly Mining Bill takes science out of decision making—the bill requires environmental analysis documents to be crafted in less than year, which is not realistic to look at impacts of these types of projects on water resources.

The bill also creates unworkably short permit review timelines for DNR staff and then provides for presumptive permit approvals if DNR staff can’t review project materials fast enough. It also removes public hearing requirements under the NEPA/WEPA process, which is arguably illegal and subject to litigation.

The bill would also eliminate the ability of the DNR to monitor a mining operation for its compliance with the clean water act and other laws, and thus makes it impossible for DNR to exercise its enforcement authority if there is a substantial threat to public health and safety or the environment.

This could result in the US EPA coming in and de-delegating the DNR as the local authority for implementing the Clean Water Act. Earlier this year, the US EPA submitted a letter to DNR outlining existing deficiencies in 75 areas, which could lead them to lose their program.

Removing DNR’s authority to conduct enforcement action on mining projects could possibly force EPA’s hand and result in the Federal Government taking over enforcement of water regulations. This would be an embarrassment to Wisconsin, and could be a real threat to our $12 billion water based tourism economy.

For all these reasons, please vote no on LRB 3529/1. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Spencer Black once made me wait seven hours to testify. I was at the hearing more than 30 minutes before it started and well before the folks who testified in the 4th hour of the hearing. He didn't like the company I worked for.

Like it or not it has always cut both ways.

James Rowen said...

I don't defend that. I don't want to get into one of those "everybody" does it" debates.

Unknown said...

But Jim, "everybody does it" is the only response that the koch reps (aka WI GOP)and their supporters ever give when confronted with facts that are unfavorable to them.

Actually, its one of the Repug Responses to Unfavorable Facts or RRUFs. The other two are: a)"Nobody really knows" which is used when confronted about sleazy GOP international shenanigans; and b)"Those studies are biased" - used to ignore clear factual evidence against one or more of their positions (e.g. global climate change studies).

The astute listener can detect one or more of these sorry excuses whenever a repub is faced with unpleasant political news.

Riverkeeper said...

Thanks Jim! I heard from a colleague that put their name in at 9:30 AM that they testified near 7:30 PM. I'm glad that some members of LCV and MEA were able to testify at least on this horrible bill. I also heard that the committee did let some of the folks that drove down 7 hours from Iron and Ashland Counties speak at the end, so I will give them one gold star for that.

I had a friend today remind me that in the body of the Declaration of Independence (after the preamble)--that goes on to list charges against that scumbag King George III that demonstrated violations of their rights and their reason for usurping his gov't--states:

"He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures."

Interesting, eh? Frankly, if you go through and read that document today, it seems like a good majority of the "abuses" detailed are still happening today--both at the state and federal level. Not sure if that is hopeful, or means that despite best intentions, we are back where we started? ugh.

xoff said...

A group of Carbon Free, Nuclear Free advocates who went to Madison to testify on the climate change task force bill in the last session were there near the start but were the last ones called, about eight hours later, after a parade of lobbyists had had their say. By then the news media, most of the audience, and all but a couple of the committee members were long gone. The chair that day was Jeff Plale, now an ex-state senator.

Cheryl said...

For your reading pleasure/fun--abuses of King George III that apply to Scott Walker:

1) He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

2) He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

3) He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

4) He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation (Ed: some heavy stuff after this--thankfully Walker hasn't hired foreign mercenaries to kill us yet)

5) For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments

6) He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

7) He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

OK. That last one was a stretch, and King George III was a serious jerk. But still, I think we can
demonstrate here that Walker has violated our rights as colonists' and is therefore unfit to be our ruler! ha!