Thursday, January 31, 2013

Articles, videos report testimonies at 12-hour Jan. 23 hearing on Wisconsin mining bill

By Michele Bourdieu

MADISON, WIS. -- In the past week since the Jan. 23rd public hearing on Wisconsin's proposed "new" mining legislation in Madison, Wis., several articles and YouTube videos have been posted on the Internet to publicize the pro-mining bias of several legislators conducting the hearing as well as the testimonies of both Native and non-Native residents of northern Wisconsin who would be most impacted by the environmental effects of a proposed 21-mile open-pit iron mine in the Penokee Hills.

Aerial view of the Penokee Hills, where Gogebic Taconite plans to put an open-pit iron mine. This photo shows the south and east side of the proposed Penokee mine site: Looking northeast, where Mud Creek meets Mead Creak and the Tyler Forks. (File photo © Pete Rasmussen, Moving Water Photography, and courtesy Penokee Hills Education Project. Reprinted with permission.)

Many of these residents traveled nearly six hours by bus to attend the 12-hour hearing and had to wait hours to give their testimony. Not all of them were able to speak.

One of the most revealing of these testimonies -- near the very end of the hearing -- concerned campaign donations to some of the legislators present, including Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), co-chair of the hearing, who attempted to silence the speaker.

In her Jan. 24, 2013, article "The Million Dollar Bill," on Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative, Rebecca Kemble (pictured left), Wisconsin Capitol reporter, says, "Of the nearly $1million in campaign donations to 20 Senate and Assembly mining committee members by interests backing mining deregulation, $74,000 went to Sen. Tiffany, according to Victoria McMurray, who cited Wisconsin Democracy Campaign finance records. Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) was the biggest recipient, cashing in nearly half a million in campaign contributions, while Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) came in third with $52,000 in donations."* (Photo of Rebecca Kemble © and courtesy Hannah Nyoike.)

Kemble's article includes this video clip of McMurray's testimony:

Victoria McMurray -- the second-to-last speaker at the Jan. 23, 2013, hearing on Wisconsin's proposed "new" mining bill -- reports campaign donations to mining committee legislators from donors who favor mining deregulation. Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) -- the second-largest of these recipients -- cuts her off, allows one more speaker and then ajourns the hearing. (Video © and courtesy Nicole Desautels Schulte. Republished with permission.)

Kemble also notes, "The corporate influence and biased nature of the proceedings were evident throughout the day. According to Williams’ rules (Mary Williams (R-Medford, co-chair with Tiffany of the hearing) the bill’s sponsors would be given 10 minutes to speak, and the Department of Natural Resources would be given 5. Everybody else was supposed to restrict their remarks to 2 minutes, with time allowed for committee members to ask a maximum of two questions.

"But it was no surprise when the CEO, Chief Engineer and lobbyist for Gogebic Taconite (GTac) -- the company that is proposing to blast a 1,000 foot deep open pit mine 21 miles long and half a mile across at the headwaters of the Bad River near the shores of Lake Superior -- took up nearly an hour of the committee’s time. GTac was also allowed to show pictures and graphs -- something others were prohibited from doing."*

This week Kemble was interviewed by Math Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, on "The People's Mic." The 8-minute audio interview, "The Progressive Magazine's Rebecca Kemble Explains the Mining Bill," is available online.**

Update: The radio interview (Part 2) continues today with Kemble's answers to callers.**
Update: Part 3 of the radio interview is now on line: "Rebecca Kemble Discusses the People Behind the Mining Legislation ."

Kemble describes for the radio audience the atmosphere of the hearing, noting that hundreds of people who attended the hearing did not get to testify. She points out that the very purpose of passing this bill into law is to allow GTac to construct their open-pit mine in the Penokees -- or possibly just to give GTac investors. She also notes the determination of the Native American groups opposing the mine, in particular the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose water and wild rice crop are at risk. She quoted one medicine woman from Bad River at an anti-mining rally last Saturday as saying "people are willing to die for this -- put their bodies on the line in large numbers" to prevent the mine from being built.**

Rebecca Kemble, Wisconsin Capitol reporter, takes photos at the "Protect Wisconsin's Waters" rally on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. Kemble has written several articles covering Wisconsin mining bill issues and Native American concerns about the proposed Gogebic Taconite open-pit mine that would threaten water resources near Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. (Photo © and courtesy Michael Matheson)

On Jan. 25, 2013, Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative published Kemble's article, "Wisconsin Tribal Members Speak Out on Mining Bill." The article has excerpts from testimonies by members of the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles and Lac du Flambeau bands of Lake Superior Chippewa as well as Ho Chunk and Menominee tribal members, who made the journey to Madison for the one and only public hearing allowed on this mining legislation.

One of these was Michael Isham, member of Lac Courte Oreilles and chairman of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) Board, who said, "'The state does not have the ability to legislate treaty rights away. The wild rice is sacred, and that’s why the reservation is there. I don’t know of any wild rice left downstream of these mining sites in Minnesota. This would be completely devastating. Has DNR and Army Corps of Engineers consulted with the tribes as is required by executive order?'"***

Michael Isham, member of Lac Courte Oreilles and chairman of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) Board, speaks at the Jan. 23, 2013, hearing on the proposed Wisconsin mining law at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. (Photo © and courtesy Rebecca Kemble)

The article also quotes Mike Wiggins Jr., Bad River Tribal chairman, as saying, "'I look at all of you, and you’re 75 percent water, probably Madison Municipal water supply. We are 75 percent water from aquifers deeper than 1,000 feet that you’re not holding GTac accountable for. Because we’re directly downstream and set to endure the impacts of this project, we view this as an imminent threat. We view this as an act of genocide.'"***

Mike Wiggins Jr., right, Bad River Tribal chairman, speaking at the Jan. 23, 2013, public hearing on the proposed Wisconsin mining bill, calls the potential GTac open-pit mine "an act of genocide." Testifying with Wiggins is Frank Connors, Bad River Council member. (Photo © and courtesy Nicole Desautels Schulte) Click here to see Desautels Schulte's video clip of Wiggins' testimony at the hearing.

Allie Raven of Bad River asked the legislators why mining is their only answer to economic development in northern Wisconsin: "'Strip mining is a lazy legislative answer.
Wasting time and energy on a catastrophic mining bill is irresponsible. Is beating this dead horse the best you can do to help us? I hope not. If you are serious, let’s see some fresh ideas. Come up and work with us. Act decisively to restore our faith in you and the legislative process.'"***

During her testimony at the Jan. 23rd hearing on the proposed Wisconsin mining bill, Allie Raven, Bad River member, asks legislators to work with the people in northern Wisconsin on creating sustainable jobs rather than mining. (Photo © and courtesy Rebecca Kemble)

Raven mentioned she was impressed to hear one legislator at the hearing, Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-71), speak about solar energy development. Raven also spoke about efforts to grow local food, including school gardens.

Click here to see a video of Allie Raven's full testimony at the hearing, by Nicole Desautels Schulte (photo at left), who videotaped the entire 12-hour hearing and has been posting video clips of testimonies on YouTube. Schulte also volunteers her time for the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative. Click here to see more of her videos.

Other speakers at the hearing mentioned initiatives for sustainable economic development being considered and attempted as an alternative to mining.

Scott Griffiths, mayor of Washburn, Wis., a town located about 40 miles from the proposed mine site, was one of these. He attacked the mining legislation as opening the door to environmental disaster.

"Let's look at helping the local food economy," Griffiths said.

Kelly Westlund, member of the Ashland City Council and small business owner, also spoke about local food systems -- small family farms and organic gardens in the area that depend on the water. Click here for a video of Westlund's testimony by Nicole Desautels Schulte.

A busload of about a dozen students from Northland College in Ashland rode down to the hearing and waited hours to testify. Those who were able to testify spoke of their love for the area and the proximity of Lake Superior. Some were students in Northland's environmental studies program and also mentioned the potential for wind power, solar energy and local food production as ways to save the economy without ruining the environment.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, opponents of the mining bill held a "Protect Wisconsin's Waters" rally in front of the Capitol in Madison. On Jan. 29, 2013, The Wisconsin
Citizens Media Cooperative published Leslie Amsterdam's photos and videos of that event, the Jan. 23rd hearing, and the Jan. 13th Idle No More protest in Madison. Click here to see these.

On Jan. 28, 2013, The Progressive magazine published an article by Rebecca Kemble titled, "Bad River Chippewa Take a Stand Against Walker and Mining." In this article Kemble mentions the importance of treaty rights between the Anishinaabe and the federal government and describes the risk to the wild rice beds and water resources of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

"Should the mining bill become law in Wisconsin, the best chance of voiding it will be in federal courts on the basis of those treaty rights," Kemble writes in this article. "That’s a battle that would begin with an injunction against implementing the new regulations, but could go on for decades, costing the Bad River Band millions in legal fees, taking up resources they could be using to support the health and well-being of their members."****

Although the Jan. 23rd hearing was the only official one allowed on the bill, Kemble also notes that Democratic legislators have scheduled a "listening session" on the bill for Feb. 9, 2013, in Ashland.****

Notes:

* Click here to read Rebecca Kemble's article, "The Million Dollar Bill."

** Click here to listen to the radio interview, "The Progressive Magazine's Rebecca Kemble Explains the Mining Bill." Click here for the second part, "Rebecca Kemble Talks to Callers about the Mining Legislation." Click here for Part 3 of this interview: "Rebecca Kemble Discusses the People Behind the Mining Legislation."

*** Click here to read Rebecca Kemble's article, "Wisconsin Tribal Members Speak Out on Mining Bill."

**** Click here to read Rebecca Kemble's Jan. 28, 2013, article, "Bad River Chippewa Take a Stand Against Walker and Mining."

Editor's Note: This information is thanks to personal contact through Facebook with Rebecca Kemble, Nicole Desautels Schulte and Allie Raven. Keweenaw Now thanks them and the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative for sharing photos, video and quotations from their articles. The Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative is a volunteer organization. You can support their work by clicking on the donate button on their Web site: http://wcmcoop.com/ .

No comments: