Sunday, February 03, 2013

Al Gedicks: Mining Industry Targets "Prove It First" Law

By Al Gedicks*
Posted Feb. 1, 2013 by Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative

[This article was originally published in Z Magazine, vol. 26 no. 2, February 2013 © Al Gedicks.]

Editor's Note: In this article, Al Gedicks analyzes the repeated efforts of Wisconsin's Walker administration and legislators to pass a controversial mining law that would assist the mining industry in avoiding regulation. He also gives updates on recent mining projects in Michigan and Minnesota and an explanation of why the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, Wis. -- which Rio Tinto/Kennecott touts as "successful" under Wisconsin's "Prove It First" moratorium on sulfide mining -- is still not fully reclaimed and continues to pollute both surface water and groundwater.

LA CROSSE, WIS. -- Prior to investing in new resource colonies, multinational mining corporations frequently change a country’s mining laws to remove restrictions on foreign ownership, reduce taxes, ease environmental protections and guarantee access to water supplies needed for mining. During the 1990s, under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, over 90 states in the Global South changed their mining laws to attract foreign mining investment. These neocolonial measures, often called "neoliberal reforms," are now being used to open up new mining projects in the Lake Superior region of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. (Photo, above, left: Al Gedicks speaks at Protect the Earth, Eagle Rock, 2009. (Keweenaw Now file photo © and courtesy Gabriel Caplett)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently told his supporters in Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) that his top legislative priority in the January 2013 session of the legislature is the passage of the controversial Iron Mining bill that was defeated by one vote in the Wisconsin Senate last spring. To advance this agenda the governor has asked Tim Sullivan, his special assistant for business and workforce development, to bring together mining experts from around the world to compare Wisconsin’s mining regulatory framework with other states. Sullivan is chair of the Wisconsin Mining Association (WMA), a past director of the National Mining Association, and a former president, CEO, and director of Bucyrus International, the largest mining machinery company in the world, now owned by Caterpillar Corporation.
(Photo: Loading iron ore at an open pit mine. Photo courtesy Al Gedicks)

WMA hired Behre Dolbear, a global mining consulting firm that specializes in drafting mining laws to suit their corporate clients and "challenging" countries who are perceived to be hostile to the mining industry to change their policies.** In their report they criticize the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) for allowing "public participation in technical meetings between the mining company and the WDNR prior to issuance of the EIS [environmental impact statement]. This has led to the process delay, uninformed debates and the process grinding to a halt." In other words, the problem is too much democracy and transparency in the mine permitting process.

The bill was written by lobbyists for Gogebic Taconite (GTac), part of the Cline Group, run by coal magnate Christopher Cline, who wants to extract low grade iron ore (taconite) from the Bad River watershed near Lake Superior. The entire rationale for separate legislation for proposed iron mining is based upon the misconception that iron mining is different from metallic sulfide mining and that therefore the existing sulfide mining laws do not apply to GTac. According to Sullivan, "We’re talking about digging a ditch, taking the iron ore, filling the ditch in. That’s as simple as what it is."

Not so simple. While the iron ore does not contain sulfides, there is a sulfide-bearing layer of rocks immediately above the iron formation that would have to be removed in order to get at the iron ore. ...Click here to read the rest of this article on the Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative Web site.

* Al Gedicks is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Executive Secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council. He is the author of Resource Rebels: Native Challenges to Mining and Oil Corporations, South End Press, 2001.

** Behre Dolbear is the company that did a technical report for Highland Resources, a Canadian mining company now doing exploration of copper resources in Houghton and Keweenaw counties. See our March 26, 2012, article, "Canadian company plans exploration project for Keweenaw copper."

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