Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mining hearing update

It looks like there was an overflow crowd at the mining hearing in Hurley yesterday according to the Ashland Daily Press, the Ashland Current, and a much more reliable source for me, the GurneyGranny who had her 'mukluks on the ground' in Hurley for the better part of yesterday. Accounts in both local papers were nicely done and well worth a read. It would appear that few people, other than Wisconsin State Treasurer Kurt Schuller, support the bill exactly as it's written, mainly because half the money would go into the black hole that is the state general fund rather than being returned to the area of the state where it was generated. The tribes and environmental groups in the state were well represented and made their opposition clear. Mining advocates also made their case for the benefits of the project.

Whether a person was on the pro or the con side however, doesn't make a damn bit of difference. This bill will be voted on next week in the Assembly just exactly how it was written, written with the able, unbiased assistance of GTAC of course, and it will pass. I get to use one of my favorite analogies for most public hearings: they are like those little cars seats with a steering wheel on them that we AARP members had when were kids, before car seats became the miniature space capsules they are now. Having that steering wheel gave us the illusion we were turning the car and every once in awhile the car would turn in the same direction that we turned the wheel, making us giddy with power and smug satisfaction. The fact of the matter of course, was that the old man was driving the car and we had exactly zero say on which direction it went.

This bill still has to be introduced in the senate, passed, make it through the conference committee, and then be signed by the Governor. We shall see how that process goes. In the meantime, please check out some photos of the area the mine will be located in. These images are by Joel Austin of Big Bear Sundries who lives in the area, and are far more evocative than the snapshots I throw up here. The chairman of GTAC, Bill Williams, says there lots of pristine areas like this in Northern Wisconsin and the UP. Take a look at the images in Joel's blog and then please let me know where the other areas in the state are that are like that, I'd like to head up and check them out. My paddling buddy and naturalist extraordinaire, ProfessorLichen, visited a reclaimed coal mining area from 80 years ago down in Iowa. Take a look at the pictures of that area vs. the shots from Mr. Austin. Which landscape do you like better?

Finally, John Tornius, the Chairman of the Board of Serigraph (a Wisconsin company that my company works with) and author of The Company That Solved Healthcare, wrote a well reasoned and spot on piece on the process of launching a new mine. The last two paragraphs are key. The state needs an open, deliberate process but not an unending one. The current process we are in the midst of, if you read his post, do not seem to fit this description. Lets hope, but not bet the farm, on the Senate injecting at least a bit of openness and deliberation into this issue.


Nan said...

As someone who graduated from JE Murphy HS in Hurley and got to witness first hand the transition of the local economy from an industrial base (mining) to one that exists to service FIPs from Chicago, I'm going to utter a classic line: You can't eat scenery. You start losing me as a potential anti-mining ally as soon as you switch from talking about concerns about run-off or toxic by-products to showing pretty pictures of the area and telling the reader to be upset about the fact a taconite operation would destroy the viewshed and ruin the hiking/skiing experience. That's the classic elitism environmentalists are always accused of indulging in: "Don't do anything industrial; it's ugly and will screw up my playground." (see also Richard White's 1995 article, "are you an environmentalist or do you work for a living?")

DaveO said...

Excellent point. That scenery, which I have a vested interest in as I noted, has a value. My point with the before/after images was that the scenery is worth something in the negotiating process and if we, the people, decide that the 'after' is acceptable then we need to get compensated for it. Right now the Assembly is in the used car lot and has eagerly accepted the very first offer from the greasy salesman in the plaid sport coat. Previous wrecks? Does the car burn oil? Actual mileage?? Nah, we don't need any facts on those possible issues, we believe everything you tell us and most of what you don't. That's my take on that ridiculous bill right now.

When I was a kid in Eau Claire, WI we had Uniroyal making tires, National Presto kicking out 105mm howitzer shells for Vietnam, and Sterling Pulp & Paper products wiping both ends of the populace; it was a blue collar nirvana. Its all gone now, except for some of the paper plant. Both my dad and grandfather were swing shift tire builders. Both died young of lung ailments. What a coincidence. The Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers were unswimable carp and sucker hatcheries. Was it worth it for the jobs, jobs, jobs and tax bucks? I have my personal opinion.

In my experience, large corporations don't give a rats ass about us, just maximizing their bottom line. If some good trickles down they are fine with that but it's about the spreadsheet. You are right about the overriding issue being water quality, but scenery is one of the chips on the bargaining table. I am not an anti mining tree hugger, as I do drive a car as well as cut down many more trees than I hug. I just want to make sure the state is not bent over, firmly grasping it's collective ankles with its pants pooled around them, as the Assembly tries to foist this one sided bill on it.

Nan said...

It is a delicate balancing act -- how do we keep the industry so people have jobs that pay a living wage while at the same time forcing industry to not pollute and not gratuitously expose workers to hazards? If the tire plant you mentioned left Eau Claire because it could make tires in China without having to worry about environmental regulations or occupational safety, you may have a gained a cleaner river locally, but the planet as a whole is the loser.

DaveO said...

Actually the plant did not leave for China but for another 'underdeveloped' area, Ardmore, OK. Cheap land, no union activity, tax incentives, and a new area to dump slurry. The other think I'm wondering is if GTAC is the only game in town. The ore is there and has been for millions of years. How about the operations currently in Minnesota and Michigan, don't they have any interest? GTAC has the leases but those too have value. I think there must be more than one basket for NE Wisconsin to have their eggs in.

gurneygranny said...

If the iron ore resource is worth destroying valuable land and waterways over, then Iron County should be in serious negotiations with the highest bidder. They should NOT be giving away large tracts of my County's land on which to pile tailings in streams and wetlands. They should NOT give into whatever G-Tac wants. The resource is not going anywhere. If the only way to save Iron County is to mine that ore, then find a company with some experience mining taconite. Find a company that can give a straight answer and tell the truth. G-tac does NOT appear to be that company.

DaveO said...

A couple more comments that rolled in via email or Spacebook. The first is from the BessemerConvivialist:

As a yooper girl who appreciates both the value of mining to the local economy (my dad and many a relative worked in mining throughout the 70s and 80s in white pine) and the glory of the environment, I would be torn if faced with having to support one side or the other. A middle ground where both can be satisfied ... Imagine that.

The second from the FrugalFisherman, a guy who has done work for the DNR as well as TU:

As for the mine, I have a hard time sorting this all out. Too many of the mine opponents came to oppose it right away and then tried to figure out why. Then you see an ever shifting parade of horribles (we need water to live) and lots of mushy unsupported statements. So far I have not seen a good solid analysis that looks at what environmental impacts merit protection and what the bill does to protect them. Also, I have not seen anything on long term care obligations for the sight. If there is no big bond required to assure the mine is not properly run and properly closed that would be a huge problem for me because you could simply have abandonment if iron prices fall and the mine becomes uneconomical. This mine is based on the expectation that emerging markets will continue to fuel a high demand for iron that will strain supplies.
Part of the problem is the Republicans in control do not seem willing to get serious about doing this in an environmentally safe way. In fact, as written, there could be approval of the mine even though it does not meet environmental standards. This wouild happen if DNR does not make a decision on the permit within one year. What a concept, if DNR does not get its work done for whatever reason then what ever is proposed is a go regardless of environmental impacts.

My thought: If we're gonna do it, let's do it right. One thing I've wondered about is why the companies currently mining taconite in the haven't been interested in this 'mother lode' of iron ore.