Friday, August 22, 2014

Mining, Science And Political Disrespect: Penokees Redux?

Science and politics are at odds in the debate over possible iron mining in the pristine Penokee Hills; it's amazing and certainly demoralizing that official disregard for science could repeat itself more than a century later there again.

Bear with me, here. A history lesson is coming.

It's been no secret that good science and smart process was shelved in the rush to approve GOP legislation that would enable the opening of a massive open-pit iron mine in the Penokees - - close to Lake Superior and just upriver from the Bad River Ojibwe Band's traditional wild rice-growing estuaries.

The mining law - - drafted with input behind closed doors by the company that wants to open the mine - - inserted artificial deadlines and so-called 'streamlining' into the state's investigations and permitting procedures so drastically that the Federal government is refusing to work with the state on mandatory, parallel permitting reviews.

The federal position, spelled out to state officials before the new Wisconsin law was adopted, was ignored. As I noted and cited nearly three years ago;

The Walker administration and Republican legislators dancing to the tune of big business have been making noises about cutting back the time allotted for environmental reviews for some major land development projects, such as proposed mines, but a lead federal environmental and water management agency, the US Army Corps of Engineers, has sent Walker's people a long letter basically warning them not to do it.
Yet specialists at the Wisconsin DNR, an agency weakened since Gov. Scott Walker installed business and trade association officials at its helm, noted health and safety risks associated with the proposed mine:
Leaked DNR report says mine poses threats to human health, water
Keep all that in mind.

To the history:

It has been a pleasure to promote on this blog the brilliant book Studying Wisconsin: The Life of Increase Lapham, about Wisconsin's first scientist, by local authors Martha Bergland and Paul G. Hayes.

In addition to the authors' broad research and skillful story-telling, I am finding information in the book that relates to contemporary matters, like this item that helps clear up a misunderstanding bandied about by people who want to keep decimating state wolf packs:

You may remember that last week I promoted the appearance at the main Milwaukee library downtown of authors Martha Bergland and Paul Hayes who read from their new, authoritative biography of Increase Lapham, the early Milwaukee settler and first Wisconsin scientist.  
Lapham's biographers do a great job bringing the wild, pre-statehood Milwaukee to life, and I want to copy out a couple of lines from page 130 not only for the chuckle they elicit about how different things were in Milwaukee, circa 1836, but to put on the record the wolf's life in our state that was established before European immigration:
"On his second day in Milwaukee, Increase got right to work laying out and leveling streets in Kilbourntown on the west side of the river so that the high places could be graded off and the swampy places filled in (4)...At Ninth and Chestnut the country was so wild that a yankee settler wrote home that timber wolves jumped over the fence into the yard and that the town would never reach that far west. (6)."
Just after I finished writing yet another post this morning about the risks of mining the Penokee Hills for low-grade iron ore,  I came to the point near the end of the Bergland/Hayes book where, despite his years of pioneering research, writings and national credibility - - and at a critical time in the work of the sttewide mineral surveying - - Lapham was summarily fired from his post as state chief geologist by new Wisconsin Governor William Taylor as a political favor to a non-scientist crony.

The correspondence of Roland Irving, a Lapham assistant is quoted (pp.s 333-334.):
"Our geological survey as gone the fate of its predecessors - - or rather a worse one," Irving wrote James Hall in February. The governor has appointed a disreputable politician to Dr. Lapham's position, leaving the survey still unorganized...One reason of the trouble was my refusal to call the Penokee ores so rich as Col. Whittlesey makes them out to be. Wisconsin has certainly had ill luck with its surveys." (27).
Will politics again overwhelm mining science and common sense in Wisconsin?

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