Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I'm glad the mining bill failed

By the time I post this it will be almost a week since ­­­Gogebic announced they were dropping their plan to build a mine in northern Wisconsin because the State Senate had taken too long to pass the requested bill.  You could say I’m behind the times in writing this now, that I’ve missed out on the discussion.  Or you could say I’ve had enough time to maturely think and reflect on it all.

For those of you not fortunate enough to be living in the political dreamland that is Wisconsin, or for those who live here but don’t follow politics, I’ll break it down for you.  Deep beneath the surface of Wisconsin are large deposits of iron ore, mainly in the northwestern portions. For a long time it was mined and shipped through the Great Lakes.  It’s a huge part of Wisconsin and Minnesota culture: the creation of the Duluth-Superior area, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.  Even Wisconsin’s beloved Badgers are not named after the animal but after miners who lived their lives underground.  A Florida- based company, Gogebic (whose name sounds like the name of a mining civilization in a fantasy story) recently expressed interest in creating a new mine in northern Wisconsin, bringing along with it a promise of 600 to 700 new jobs.  There was a major stipulation, however.  The state government would have to reform its laws to make the process of gaining mining permits easier and reduce the power of the DNR to regulate mining.  A bill was crafted that gave Gogebic basically exactly what they wanted.  Now, in Wisconsin both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office are controlled by Republicans, giving them a free pass to do just about anything.  But after a round of recall elections the Republicans only have a one-vote majority in the Senate, making Sen. Dale Schultz (the one Republican senator who is willing to vote based on his convictions instead of party lines) the most powerful person in Wisconsin.  Schultz felt that the new bill was too lenient so he refused to sign it.  This led to negotiations where the bill’s authors tried to make changes that could win one vote, either from Schultz or a lone Democrat.  After protracted negotiations, Gogebic pulled out, saying that Wisconsin clearly wasn’t serious about getting a new mine.  Some believe that this is just a power play by Gogebic to get more of what they want, but as of this posting the bill is dead and the mine is dead.

As suggested in the title, I am pleased with this outcome.  I can think of better outcomes, but I can also surely think of worse outcomes, namely having the bill passed as originally written and having Gogebic run their mine the way they want.  I want mining to be a reality in Wisconsin, and I know that most people who live in the area where the mine would be want it to be a reality.  But it must be done correctly.  There is a desperate need for jobs, especially in Wisconsin which has been the only state to continue losing jobs as the rest of the state bounces back.  But there is also a need to protect the state’s beauty and natural resources.

Have you been to northern Wisconsin?  Maybe you haven’t but I hope for your sake you have.  It’s God’s country.  It’s a coniferous paradise.  Its wild, unchecked beauty is one of the great assets of our state.  We destroyed it once in the lumberjacking days but it has come back strong.  I would hope that this time along we would protect it, not exploit it.

An open pit mine wouldn’t be the end of the world.  The actual area covered by a mine would be small; if you lived in the area and thought it was an eyesore you could just drive around it.  Or maybe you’d like it.  On the way to work in Waukesha every day I pass by a quarry that is actually quite beautiful.  The tools of industry have their own artistic quality.  But the unseen impact would be huge.  Consider the air pollution, though I guess at this point we’re all just used to that and have no intentions of preventing it.  But the damage to the water table would have a lasting, powerful impact.  Water pollution would damage the ecosystem and reduce the quality of life.  This could in turn decrease tourism revenue in the state, as the north woods will quickly become a less desirable location to visit.  Those supporting the mining bill seem to think state regulations exist just to feed an ever-growing bureaucracy and create more desk jobs for greedy government workers.  But these are legitimate channels for us to protect the natural beauty of our state and for people to file grievances.  They protect our right to not have the damages and excesses of industry intrude on our lives.

The prevailing voice in the debate seems to be “jobs now.”  Not good jobs now, not safe jobs now.  Any jobs now.  So badly that the government tries to meet every beck and call of any company promising 600 jobs.  Never mind that we could look at Appalachia and see how little the mining industry actually improves the quality of life for its workers.  Never mind any long term decreases in the quality of our state and its other industries.  These guys are promising jobs, why aren’t we doing everything in our power to give them everything they want?

When Gogebic pulled out they didn’t take anything with them.  The iron ore, the resource that would produce those 600-700 jobs, is still buried here in Wisconsin.  The fact that we failed at allowing a Florida company to take and sell it is not a loss.  We still have the iron and the right to do with it as we please.  What our legislators need to remember is that we are in the driver’s seat.  This is not a new factory that can be planted anywhere with sufficient population and infrastructure.  This is a resource we have that others are trying to commercialize.  We have something they need.  In order to increase their profits they need to seek our permission to dig up and ship off chunks of our state.  We should be seeking to ensure we get the most possible benefit from this.  We should find a mining company that is looking to benefit Wisconsin as much as it profits from Wisconsin.  And if we can’t find one, someone should make one.  Don’t we have entrepreneurs here in the state?  By taking our time and making intelligent decisions we can make a plan that improves the long-term viability of the state instead of just taking whatever terrible offer gets thrown at us.


  1. Hey Kevin, Jake Winkler, UWEC Graduate Dec. 2010. I hope you're well. Here's more information about the "Badger State". http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/wlhba/articleView.asp?pg=2&id=4025&key=badger&cy=

    1. Or even better: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary/index.asp?action=view&term_id=9113&search_term=badger