Loading
Search
NEWS STORIES

Tiffany seeks repeal of state's mining moratorium law; Walker says it's "possible" a mining company could return to northern WisconsinSubmitted: 01/06/2017
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter
bmeyer@wjfw.com

Tiffany seeks repeal of state's mining moratorium law; Walker says it's
WISCONSIN - Saying that a successful 1990s mining operation in Ladysmith means the state no longer needs a 19-year-old law, State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) said he will move to repeal Wisconsin's 1998 mining moratorium law.

A successful repeal of the moratorium could make it easier for companies looking to open copper, lead, and zinc mines in the state.

"[The Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith] has been closed for over ten years now. There's no effluent coming out. The courts have said they did an 'exemplary' job of closure," Tiffany said. "That's why I believe the statute can be removed from the law."


The state legislature passed the moratorium in 1998, drawing broad support from Republicans and Democrats. Republican Governor Tommy Thompson signed it into law.

The law requires companies interested in mining minerals called sulfides - most commonly, copper, lead, and zinc - to show examples of similar American or Canadian mines which have operated without surface or groundwater issues.

"They have to submit examples of mining operations that essentially didn't cause environmental problems," said DNR Statewide Metallic Mining Coordinator Larry Lynch.

Tiffany thinks the law is outdated.

"There's really no reason for us to have a moratorium on those jobs that could be here in Wisconsin, if a company proves they can do it in an environmentally safe manner," he said.

The current law forces mining companies to show examples of two specific sulfide mines. It must provide the DNR with one American or Canadian mine which has been open ten years without surface and groundwater problems. It must also show one which has been closed for ten years without similar problems.

Because of the nature of their geology, sulfide mines run a higher risk of environmental problems. When sulfides are exposed to water and oxygen, they create sulfuric acid.

"One of the byproducts is acidic runoff, or acidic leaching," Lynch said. "That's a big problem, as far as environmental management of these types of mine sites."

The current mining moratorium doesn't apply to iron ore mines. That's due to a special exemption created by a 2013 law governing iron ore mine permitting, which Tiffany helped push through.

Tiffany used the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith as a reason why the state no longer needs a sulfide mining moratorium. That copper and gold mine operated for about four years in the 1990s, after which it was reclaimed as a prairie and wetland. In 2012, federal judge Barbara Crabb ruled the company's environmental practices were "exemplary," even though it violated some federal clean water laws.

"In effect, the court decision satisfied the moratorium," Tiffany said. "I believe the statute is no longer relevant."

Tiffany likes the example of the Flambeau Mine, even though the Flambeau Mine wasn't open the ten years required as part of the law.

"I see it as a difference without a distinction, in terms of, it operated successfully for the period of time it was there. I think the key thing the public is looking for is, 'Is there that closure for ten years that has been successful?' They've satisfied that now," he said.

Tiffany's proposal drew immediate criticism on the Flambeau Mine comparison from legislative Democrats.

"It's a mini-mine. It's a little mini-mine," state Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Delta) said of the Flambeau Mine, whose open pit was just 35 acres. "You can't look at the teeny little Flambeau Mine and then wash your hands and say, 'Oh, we can do this again.' It's just not comparable."

Bewley was also skeptical of Tiffany's motivations.

"Who's asking? Why? Who wants to do what, and whose ox is going to be gored when it happens? I want the backstory, first of all," she said.

Tiffany said no specific company has contacted him about mining a sulfide ore deposit in Wisconsin. But he pointed out ore deposits in the area, like the deposit in the town of Lynne in western Oneida County.

Despite both Democrats and Republicans supporting the 1998 law, Tiffany signaled confidence in convincing current Republicans, who hold wide majorities in the state Senate and Assembly, to back a repeal.

He relayed a conversation with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) in a recent Senate caucus.

"[Fitzgerald] said it is one of the issues he regrets, having voted for [the moratorium in 1998]," said Tiffany. "He said, 'I made a mistake in voting for that.'"

On Friday, Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Fitzgerald, said, "Sen. Fitzgerald clarified that he wished he had approached the issue differently" at the time.

Tiffany has been no stranger to mining issues in the last several years.

He was the main force behind the new iron ore mining law Republican Governor Scott Walker signed in 2013 in Rhinelander. Critics said it weakened environmental protections. At the time, Gogebic Taconite was considering constructing a massive iron ore mine in Iron and Ashland counties.

Gogebic Taconite scrapped plans for the mine in 2015, blaming difficulties with federal regulations.

In an interview Dec. 22 at the Governor's Mansion in Madison, Walker agreed with Tiffany's conclusion that the ore body would be mined at some point.

"I'm not promising anything. I don't have any guarantees," Walker said. "But I think it is possible that [mining companies] might give it another look, whether it be to this project or something like that in the future."

Walker believes the incoming Trump administration, and an EPA led by its new administrator, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, could make things easier on mining companies.

"We'd have to see some changes, which we hope will come," Walker said. "Then we have something to show a would-be employer out there that yes, things have changed, things are different. Otherwise, trying to attract them now probably just gets us to the same point we were before."

Tiffany also wants major federal regulatory changes.

"I sure hope that there are changes made, in particular at the EPA, also the Corps of Engineers , but in particular at the EPA, because they've really been a rogue agency now for the past eight years," he said. "That's an EPA that's out of control."

But Bewley, whose legislative district includes the site of the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine, said she's hearing something different from her constituents.

"What happened with Gogebic Taconite and the iron ore debacle is fresh because they don't want to go down that road again," Bewley said.

She's also is skeptical of mining companies' interest in exploring the deposit.

"They will exploit Australia far sooner than they're going to worry about northern Wisconsin," she said. "There is a very cool, if not cold, attitude towards mining iron ore in northern Wisconsin."

Related Weblinks:
Link to Ben Meyer's full interview with Gov. Walker

Text Size: + Increase | Decrease -
| Print Story | Email Story
Sponsored in part by HodagSports.com





 IN OTHER NEWS

Play Video

MERRILL - The Merrill Police Department need helping finding anyone involved in several acts of vandalism that happened earlier this week.

Brian Schwartz has lived in his home on River Street in Merrill for almost 10 years. His garage, his neighbor's garage, and the public service building down the street were vandalized. Schwartz reported the vandalism to police on Monday. 

Schwartz says this is the first time anyone has vandalized his property.

+ Read More

Play Video

RHINELANDER - When Debby Glebke's friends were going back to the south to escape the Northwoods winter, they asked her to watch their home.

"It makes me feel good to help people, I just want to make their life easier," said Glebke. 

That favor sparked an idea that's lasted more than 20 years Glebke's business Snow Bird Home Watch.

"I have all this ambition or I have a lot of energy," said Glebke. 

When Glebke's husband died about fourteen years ago she turned her energy into an outlet.

"You know we always learn something from a crisis you always learn something good," said Glebke. 

Glebke also got a lot of firsts out of the situation too.

"It feels good just to own your own business, I've never really been in my own business," said Glebke. 

While creating something of her own she gave her grandchildren a new role model.

+ Read More

RHINELANDER - One Rhinelander man's love for drumming started in 6th grade.

That passion led him to start making his own drums.

Northland Music Center owner Will Roffers recently started hand-building custom snare drums.

Some of the shells he works with are pre-made, but his "stave" shells are shaped and sanded.

He used to build and race stock cars, so he knew how to weld and mold, but drum making was a bit more challenging.

"Working with wood is tough for me. You cut something wrong and there's not putting it back together ," says Will.

Will eventually wants to hand-build snare drums to sell to the public.

In the meantime, he restores and customizes sets for customers.

+ Read More

Play Video

CRANDON - Terri Burl wanted to ask more questions than make comments during Congressman Sean Duffy's town hall in Crandon on Thursday.

"Everybody's in the state of the unknown right now," Burl said.

Burl, a Republican, was thinking of her 26-year-old son in Oshkosh as she asked Duffy (R-Wausau) about health care concerns.  She worries about tax penalties for her uninsured son and the GOP's lack of solid ideas to replace the Affordable Care Act.

+ Read More

Play Video

MERRILL - Tucked away in the southwest corner of Merrill you can find one of only 19 World War One memorials in Wisconsin. 

People from Lincoln County who died during the war are honored there. 
 
Wednesday, a group of volunteers paid their respects to those service men with some soap, water, and hard work. 

"It's a good opportunity to pay back that service," said Church Mutual employee Sheila Severt. 

Church Mutual employees get one day a year to volunteer in the community, Severt wanted to do something to help veterans.

+ Read More

MADISON - The Senate judiciary committee is set to vote on four bills that would impose tougher drunken driving penalties.

The Republican proposals would create a five-year minimum prison sentence for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and raise the minimum incarceration period for fifth and sixth offenses from six months to 18 months.

+ Read More

MADISON - It would be a felony to have sex with an animal in Wisconsin under a bill circulating in the Legislature.

Under current law, having sex with an animal is a misdemeanor.

Republican state Rep. Andre Jacque, of De Pere, circulated a bill Thursday to increase the penalty. He referenced a case from the Town of Eaton involving a man who faces misdemeanor charges of animal abuse after an incident in February involving a horse.

+ Read More
+ More General News
Search: 





Click Here