Letter: Proposed mining bill threatens water resources by Karl Fate
The protection of our water resources in northern Wisconsin should never be a partisan issue, but this will be the result if the resurrected iron mining bill becomes law.
The bills being proposed are an outright assault on the water resources of northern Wisconsin and on the necessary public processes to assure the protection of these resources. These are sweeping, radical changes that are not being owned up to by the author, Senator Tom Tiffany. Instead, he continues to grossly misrepresent the law that he is peddling.
Last year, Senator Tiffany claimed that “no degradation of groundwater quality is allowed outside the footprint of the mine.” This is untrue. There is not a non-degradation standard for groundwater quality, even under current law. These standards offer only a minimum level of protection while allowing degradation of groundwater quality to occur. But the bill that Senator Tiffany supports would allow a dramatic expansion of the area in which even these minimum levels of protection could be exceeded.
Senator Tiffany continues to claim that this would truly be a “21st century” mining bill. It is hard to imagine a more twisted misrepresentation of reality. Perhaps Senator Tiffany should actually disclose the details of the bill he has authored to his constituents.
Senator Tiffany’s bill would eliminate the long established specific prohibition on “the destruction or filling in of a lakebed in connection to a metallic mining permit.” The bill would allow for considerable destruction of wetlands while allowing mitigation unrelated to the actual area impacted. The bill that Senator Tiffany supports “exempts specified activities relating to ferrous mining from shore land zoning ordinances” and removes the need for a variance from the shore land zoning ordinance. Shore lands are the areas adjacent to our lakes and streams. It should also be noted that this bill would no longer require the DNR to deny a mine permit application “if the proposed project does not conform with all applicable zoning ordinances.” Our lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater are all being targeted in this bill for dramatic weakened protections with little remaining public process.
This bill is a serious, profound threat to public process and to our water resources in every form. If this bill becomes law, it will likely require the support of nearly every Senate member of the majority party, making it a distinctly partisan law and a distinctly partisan attack on public process and our water resources. The majority party will be picking a fight with the federal government, tribal governments, local governments and all those across the state who revere our bipartisan heritage of protecting our precious water resources and the public involvement it requires. It is a fight that a single party, majority or otherwise, will ultimately lose and it will be a stamp on that party that it will struggle for many years to shed.
Karl A. Fate, Rhinelander