-By Rebecca Kemble
October 26, 2011- Wisconsin Republicans have begun their push for dangerous mining up north.
“The iron mine train starts today,” proclaimed Assembly representative Mark Honadel at a press conference held by Assembly Republicans on Tuesday morning. He was referring to a proposed twenty-two mile long mountain-top removal project in the Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin. These hills form the headwaters of the Bad River and comprise the southern boundary of the Bad River watershed, the largest Wisconsin watershed draining into Lake Superior. The Nature Conservancy reports that the Bad River is home to 72 species of rare and endangered plants and animals. The mouth of the Bad River also contains large wild rice beds that are critical to the economy and life ways of the Bad River Band of Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people.
Mark Honadel represents South Milwaukee and Oak Creek, WI, communities that are home to two factories owned by Caterpillar, the largest manufacturer of mining and heavy construction equipment on the planet. Caterpillar’s mining division moved its headquarters to Milwaukee earlier this year after their purchase of Bucyrus, a manufacturer of strip mining and underground coal mining equipment.
Honadel and Rep. Mary Williams from Medford, chair of the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business, kicked off the event this morning by announcing a public hearing on mining issues to be held in Hurley on Thursday. This, despite the non-existence of an actual piece of legislation to be heard.
Rumors of a mining bill designed to fast-track the permitting process and weaken Wisconsin’s robust environmental protection rules have been flying around the capitol since last winter. Senators Rich Zipperer and Neal Kedzie, both from suburbs outside of Milwaukee, were reportedly crafting a law under the direction of lobbyists for GTac, the company which has already obtained exploration permits for the area.
Amidst pressure from the public and environmental and tribal groups over the spring and summer, the senators were forced to pull back the bill before introducing it. On September 22, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald convened a select Senate Committee on Mining Jobs “to review Wisconsin’s mining laws and regulations, and make improvements aimed at creating jobs in rural Wisconsin” with Kedzie as chair.
Critics are adamant that Wisconsin’s mining laws are fine the way they are, and that there are better ways to create more sustainable jobs in the region. Last April during his State of the Tribes address to the full Wisconsin legislature, Mike Wiggins Jr. said that he was concerned about effects of the mine in spite of its potential economic benefits. “Our lands and water define who we are as Ojibwe people,” Wiggins said. Wiggins is the chairman of the Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council, as well as chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose land borders the Penokee Hills.
Veterans of the twenty-year anti-mine battle that took place east of the Penokee Hills in Crandon still live in the area and are prepared to fight. Their struggle resulted in the mining laws on the books today, which force mining companies to prove the existence of just one mine somewhere on the planet that has not polluted surrounding air, land, or water. So far, mining companies have not been able to produce that kind of evidence.