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Tiffany thinks the law is outdated.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 - Employees at Park City Credit Union in Merrill spent Tuesday afternoon passing out turkeys, potatoes, and pumpkin pies to families in need this Thanksgiving. It's one of the many acts of kindness the credit union does in the Northwoods.

This month, the state credit union association recognized Park City with the Louise Herring Award for Philosophy in Action.

"There's one that's received in every state. We were lucky enough to receive the one in Wisconsin," said Park City Credit Union President and CEO Val Mindak. "We're very pleased about that for all of the things we're doing in our markets."

+ Read More

Play Video

EAGLE RIVER - Eagle River Elementary School teacher Brenda Liermann believes kindergarten is all about exploring.

Thanks to a grant from 3M in Wausau, her students will get hands-on experience when it comes to exploring the STEM fields. 

"We need to have them experience the engineering and the technology," said Liermann.

+ Read More

Play Video

RHINELANDER - Paging through sales flyers, setting your alarm clock extra early, and standing in line with hundreds of people usually go hand in hand on Black Friday.

It's a day retail stores have to prepare for in advance and a day shoppers can't wait for because of those deals. 

+ Read More

MERRILL - Merrill Fire Department wants to remind you to stay safe this Thanksgiving.

Deep-frying a turkey is a popular cooking style, but it's also the most dangerous way to prepare your bird.
 
You should never leave the fryer unattended because it only takes seconds to boil over.

Turkey fryer explosions can be massive.

Set up the fryer in an open-air space, away from kids and pets.

"Fire can expand at least two times the size every minute. Leaving for two or three minutes? You're looking at a pretty big fire," firefighter and paramedic Phillip Skoug.

For those deer hunters out there, never place your fryer near your canopy.

You should also never leave food cooking in your kitchen untended either.

+ Read More

Play Video

LAND O' LAKES - Some artists learn about painting and pottery during art classes in school.

But one home schooled boy is finding other ways to perfect his art.

"Just being yourself and being creative," said 12-year-old Severt Beattie.

Beattie has a passion for painting.

"Sometimes I just want to be creative," said Beattie.
Beattie got inspired by art after discovering a family member was once a famous artist.

"My great grandpa was an artist. He has some really cool pictures he's made," said Beattie.

Beattie hits the books hard when he is getting home schooled. But often times, extra-curricular classes, like art class get overlooked.

"It makes me feel enjoyable and happy because I like all the colors," said Beattie.

+ Read More

Play Video

MERRILL - Merrill could be the newest local school district to rely on referendum money in its school budget.

The district faces a $1.8 million dollar operating deficit for next school year, and it has had to take from savings for years to keep the school running.

"We've been making cuts, and we've gotten in the habit of making cuts. Unfortunately, we became very good at making cuts," said Superintendent Dr. John Sample.

A consultant's survey got more than 1,600 responses from people in the district. It shows two-thirds of respondents support some sort of referendum to help pay for schools.

+ Read More

TAYLOR COUNTY - A kindergartener from north central Wisconsin is among the first youngsters to bag a buck under the state's new law that eliminates the state's minimum hunting age.

Six year old Lexie Harris is no stranger to the woods.

Her dad, Tyler Harris, has taken her hunting since she was three.

+ Read More
+ More General News
Search: 





Click Here