Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wis. State Sen. Bob Jauch: Statement Regarding Mining Discussions

Press release from Wis. State Sen. Bob Jauch
Feb. 29, 2012

I applaud Senator Schultz for his public commitment to a mining proposal that’s fair to the applicant but truly represents the public will. His statement today demonstrates his dedication to represent the voice of citizens who have expressed deep concerns about the Assembly Bill. I agree with him that the so-called compromise plan offered by Senator Darling and Rep. Vos fails to address the concerns expressed by the public.

In August, Governor Walker expressed a desire to work with me to create a balanced proposal that would work for local governments, tribal governments, and preserve our natural resources in a sustainable fashion.

The proposal offered by Senator Shultz and I achieve the balance the Governor sought. If he doesn’t want to take my word, then he and Assembly leaders should join me in Mellen to listen to residents who support our approach.

Last weekend Senators Schultz, Cullen, and Holperin joined me and Representative Janet Bewley in a town meeting on mining sponsored by Mellen and Morse local officials. During the hour and half meeting attended by well over 100 citizens not one person testified in favor of the Assembly legislation. In fact, they all spoke passionately in opposition to the bill. The same was the case at an Ashland/Bayfield League of Women Voters League forum held the next day.

Their message was simple and clear. They want the mine, but they fear the mine. They want the jobs but they fear legislation that will weaken environmental standards and limit the DNR’s ability to protect their environment. They welcome economic initiatives to help the region grow, but are weary of politicians and special interest groups from elsewhere who pretend to be their voice but have never bothered to listen to them.*

Senator Schultz and I offered a proposal that balances job creation and environmental protection. It is a plan that streamlines the process and provides predictability and certainty for any mining applicant. It was a good faith proposal that addressed areas of concern expressed by Speaker Fitzgerald.

Contrary to what critics say, our plan closely resembles Minnesota, a state that mines more iron than any other state. Our plan does not raise taxes on the mining company. A recent fiscal bureau memo affirms the fact that the company would have no net tax liability as a result of our plan.

Since announcing the plan we have repeatedly expressed a willingness to modify our proposal. We have publicly identified several areas in which compromise can easily be achieved.

However, we have also emphasized that any agreement must reflect the public desire to protect contested case hearings and avoid weakening of environmental standards. Minnesota does not weaken their standards for mining and the Governor and Assembly Republicans have not made a case by case justification why Wisconsin should minimize our existing standards.

I am grateful for Senator Schultz’s leadership in attempting to forge a compromise. He wants to find a workable solution that is fair to any mining company, but above all he believes that the solution should reflect the will of the thousands of citizens who have expressed deep concerns about the Assembly bill.

He has listened to the citizens most affected by the mine and his actions speak to true representation of their voice. However, his statement today also accurately portrays a legislative climate that makes compromise almost impossible to accomplish.

We offered our plan in an attempt to generate thoughtful discussion on this controversial and complicated topic. Sadly, the debate over mining legislation has now dissolved into partisan accusations and mindless, misleading propaganda being spread by special interest groups. Citizens in our districts as well as several other Senate districts have been targets of misleading robo-calls and television advertisements paid by anonymous donors who don’t live in our districts.

Hubert Humphrey said it best: "Leadership requires far more than a large stock of gunboats and a hard fist at the conference table. These tactics are not practiced to solve problems. They are designed to intimidate. The public deserves better."

Senator Schultz and I are confident that our plan would help reshape the debate and we’re pleased that many editorials and organizations praised the effort. Unfortunately, the political response was nothing different from the politics of division that sadly defines the Wisconsin political landscape.

If one favors responsible mining, one should insist on a responsible mining law that regulates mining. We believe that a transparent process and open dialogue on the issues can lead to that responsible mining law. It appears that there is a lack of will to have that open dialogue on the specifics.

The public is starving for reasonable, bipartisan leadership to tackle the complicated issues of the day. That’s why Senator Schultz and I worked together to bring forth our compromise plan. That’s why we’ve asked our colleagues from both parties and both houses to work together on this bill. The responses and rhetoric have fallen far short of the public’s expectations.

* Editor's Note: For a citizen's report on the recent town meeting in Mellen, Wis., see Wendy Thiede's article, "Mellen, Wis., residents speak out on proposed Taconite mine, AB 426," posted on Keweenaw Now Feb. 26, 2012.

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