Scott Walker’s signing of the open-pit mining bill is a defining moment in his term as governor. Wisconsinites statewide are still reeling from all of the damage this bill has the potential to inflict. From endangering our health to irrevocably scarring the beautiful Penokee Hills to all of the negative implications for waterways that Wisconsin tribes and others depend upon – the open-pit mining bill arguably one of the worst environmental bills in Wisconsin’s history. And now it’s not just a bill. With Governor Walker’s signature, it became the law of the land.
Why is it so bad, you ask?
Well, to name just a few of the concerns, the open-pit mining law:
- Rolls back protections for wetlands, groundwater supply, and public input opportunities.(1)
- Gives mining companies free rein to provide only the information they choose to provide.(2)
- Explicitly states that groundwater contamination by mining companies is acceptable.(3)
- Exempts mining companies from the water, land, and public health protections that every other industry in Wisconsin must follow.(4)
- Cuts the public out of the decision making processes that impacts our communities and it leaves us on the hook for mining companies’ costs of doing business.(5)
Here’s the bottom line: Governor Walker’s open-pit mining bill puts Wisconsinites at risk.
Arsenic, which is linked to kidney, liver, lung, and bladder cancer,(6) and lead, which can lead to learning and behavior problems and slowed growth in children, are naturally-occurring substances disturbed by the aggressive misplacement of earth in the mining process. The result is that they can find their way into surface and groundwater, including drinking water. Iron ore processing also releases mercury, which can lead to neurological problems in adults and severe developmental problems in fetuses, infants, and children.(7) And unsafe amounts these chemicals have already turned up in other places with iron ore mining.(8)
Aside from the obvious human health impacts, the open-pit mining bill also means we can say goodbye to the world class trout fishing streams – and the tourism dollars they generate. The shortsighted approach that Governor Walker has endorsed will endanger the 71 miles of rivers and streams that flow through the proposed mining area in the beautiful Penokee Hills, as well as the Bad River and Lake Superior. Tourism is Wisconsin’s second largest industry, providing nearly 300,000 jobs, generating almost $12.1 billion in travel expenditures, and bringing in $6.72 billion in resident income. Placing a 5,000 acre pit in the midst of a prime natural area means jobs taken away from Wisconsinites employed in the tourism economy.(9)
If anyone thinks folks from Illinois will travel to northern Wisconsin, spending their tourism dollars along the way, to visit what is slated to be the world’s largest iron mine – they have another think coming.
What’s more, the mining area supports the largest wild rice beds in the Great Lakes basin where members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have harvested wild rice for centuries.(10) The tribe’s reservation is located downstream of the mining site and polluted run-off could have shattering consequences for the community. This summer, tribal leaders exercised their own power. Knowing from experience that appeals to the Walker Administration would fall on deaf ears, tribal leaders instead appealed straight to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, urging them to invoke the Clean Water Act to save the precious fresh water sources – including Lake Superior – that the mine would degrade.(11)
Bottom line – this law is bad. Governor Walker’s signature serves as an endorsement for undermining our wellbeing, our tourism economy, and the waterways that we have proudly maintained for our health, our food, and our recreation.
While the threats this law poses to our quality of life are, of course, beyond troubling, perhaps the worst part about Governor Walker’s signature on the open-pit mining bill is that he has made it absolutely, undeniably clear that he has no intention of listening to the people of Wisconsin. When the bill was first introduced – and defeated – in 2011, nearly 1,000 committed conservation voters voiced their concerns at public hearings, and more than 13,000 emails flooded the inboxes of decision makers outlining why the bill was so harmful. When the bill was reintroduced the next year, citizens’ were even louder, with 24,500 letters and thousands of phone calls warning legislators about the dangerous bill. Yet Governor Walker ignored the tens of thousands of voices and signed the bill anyway.
And the story doesn’t end there, because – apparently – in Walker’s Wisconsin it takes money for you to have a say. Learn more about the political cronyism that paved the way for the Walker Administration’s support here.