Sunday, January 4, 2015

A meditation on mining, mitigation and moral malfeasance

[Updated] The forecast for plunging temperatures got me thinking about the proposed GTac iron ore mine in Northwestern Wisconsin near Lake Superior, where last year, during very cold weather, people got a view of the ice cave phenomenon and an even greater appreciation of the big lake's beauty. 

Which got me thinking that later this year, unless prevented by the collapse of iron ore prices, GTac might formally submit an application for a permit to deforest and dynamite the Penokee Hills near Lake Superior, dig what could become the world's largest open-pit iron ore mine.

And dump untold millions of tons of waste rock and other debris across 3,300 acres of pristine wetlands, lakes, streams in the Bad River and Lake Superior watersheds.

I note that Wisconsin's Ojibwe are holding a conference this week about alternatives to such mining - - an event worth following, given that:

*  In a moment of unexpected candor, the mine's lead legislative supporter admitted it would damage the environment and the bill had been written to signal that very legislative intent to any judge asked to rule on it.

*  That legislator, State Sen. Tom Tiffany, (R-Hazelhurst), agreed at the request of the Governor's office to be the bill's go-to-guy with lobbyists, and later authored a companion bill and law that closed from public access forest land surrounding the potential mine site even though the land had received property tax subsidies in exchange for the access.

*  The bill also contained language lifted from a contemporaneous anti-environmental law that made it easier to fill Wisconsin wetlands - - despite multiple assurances to the contrary by GOP legislators who said they would never do such a thing.

*  Among the conditions the mining company said were mandatory - - a requirement that mandates state regulators complete complex mine permit reviews in a relatively brief time frame. This is ironically called "streamlining," when actual streams would be filled with waste and debris in the millions of tons if the mine is approved.

*  To make matters worse - - literally, legally and morally - - the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - - now intentionally run by what Walker called a "chamber-of-commerce mentality - - says on its wetlands mitigation website that when damage is done to wetlands - - damage now made more likely through de-regulation and relaxed enforcement - - proximity to the damage is the least preferred of the "avenues" 
for compensatory environmental repairs, or so-called "mitigation. 

Types of compensatory mitigation

  • Wetland Mitigation Banking
    Skunk CabbageA wetland individual permit applicant can purchase credits from an approved bank to satisfy their compensatory mitigation requirement.
  • In–lieu fee program
    A wetland individual permit applicant can purchase credits from the DNR sponsored WI Wetland Conservation Trust in–lieu fee program to satisfy their compensatory mitigation requirement.
  • Permittee Responsible Mitigation
    A wetland individual permit applicant can satisfy their compensatory mitigation requirement by completing a mitigation project within the same watershed service area or within a half mile of the permitted unavoidable wetland adverse impact.
The new Wisconsin regulations identify participation in mitigation banking and in–lieu fee programs as the preferred avenues to satisfying compensatory mitigation requirements.
* GTac was allowed to help write the mining bill and routed a once-secret $700,000 donation to Gov. Walker's campaign.

Bottom line: some things are so corrupted that they cannot be mitigated.


Anonymous said...

Do you have any more information on the workshop held by the Chippewa nations? The WXPR story doesn't provide much information for those of who would like to attend.

James Rowen said...

Red Cliff is hosting. Perhaps here - -

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, there are some otherwise well-meaning people that misrepresent myths of economic and supply & demand fairytales to proclaim the mine will never happen.

What these folks refuse to accept is:

1. Between the $700,000 bribe (and who knows how much more their was) paid to write and pass the bill and then every other cost for test and whatever, Gtac has much more than $1 million stuck into this. They are going to recover this, probably by selling the mining rights once it is approved.

2. The approval process has been rigged to make it unlikely that permits will not be issued.

3. The bill makes filling wetlands OK and other ecological concerns null-and-void. The mine will not be stopped because of environmental concerns.

4. The mine, once it is approved, can and will be sold to an out-of-US entity. China buys the vast majority of iron, so you guess who that will be. The republicans had a reason to create legislation that enables countries to purchase almost limitless tracks of Wisconsin land.

4. Gtac and others are going to use this to set up court challenges, all the way to the SCOTUS, to throw out "inconvenient" environmental laws and Native American treaty rights.

5. No one can really say what will happen if another sovereign nation ends up owning the land and mining rights.

6. NAFTA and potentially TPP can be used to argue that the U.S. cannot use environmental laws and treaties to interfere with mining once it is owned by a foreign entity.

So when folks bloviate about the current price of iron, they are not looking at the facts. In-the-end, once this is approved and Gtac has the green light, it becomes a buyers market for China -- and Gtac can accommodate them because

1. They have relatively little money invested in obtaining the land and rights.

2. The precedents that they will set will enable much more profitable mining operations elsewhere. Remember -- they have no experience at all in iron mining.

MAL said...

"A mine is a hole in the ground owned by liars."
- Mark Twain

Great piece on mining and this amoral industry by Laura Gauger. Piece deals with Wisconsin’s closed Flambeau Mine (in the 1990s) and propaganda circulated in late 2013 by Mining Minnesota, a lobbyist group headed by Frank Ongaro in Duluth.


Same principles apply to GTAC and Walker's pathological lying to protect polluters of our water.

Anonymous said...

So, basically what is going on, is no matter how hard we try, the land is going to China thru GTAC. It is just a matter of time.

Anonymous said...

Yup! Walker and friends have the best interests of Wisconsin and its people at heart!!!!!! WAKE UP WISCONSIN.