Wis. Senate Fast-Tracks Mining Bill

Members of the Senate Committee on Mining Jobs from both parties have been telling the public that the mining bill passed by the Assembly in January was dead. They also assured the people of Wisconsin that a Senate version of the bill would move through the legislative process more deliberately and have more accessible public hearings before going to a vote.

So it came as a great surprise this afternoon when the committee announced it would be holding a hearing this coming Friday, less than four days away, in Platteville, WI, 350 miles away from the proposed mine site.

A 191-page draft of the bill was released today, along with a three-page Legislative Council memo comparing this proposal to AB 426, the bill that passed the Assembly on January 26, 2012 on a party line vote. According to the memo, the senate version, “retains most of the provisions of the bill” passed by the Assembly.

Four of the five changes identified by Legislative Council are relatively minor and have to do with tweaking language around timelines and processes. A 30-day extension of the 360-day deadline for the DNR to decide upon an application was added, and the possibility for contested case hearings was re-inserted, though they are not required as part of the process.

The fifth change involves adding a production tax of $2 per “long ton” of ore extracted to be applied after the third year of a mine’s operation and split 70/30 between local impact committees and the state’s general fund. During a public hearing last month, mining advocates from the local area raised concerns about negative economic impacts on their communities. They opposed provisions of AB 426 that funneled tax revenues to the state’s general fund instead of keeping them in the local area to build and maintain local infrastructure required to support mining operations. The addition of a production tax would likely remove their opposition to the bill.

In a Wisconsin Radio Network interview last week Chairman Neal Kedzie said he was consulting with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in writing the Senate version of the bill. Bad River tribal officials confirmed today that they were not consulted in the writing of this draft bill. Indeed, none of the changes from the Assembly version of the bill reflect the environmental and procedural concerns raised by Bad River or the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

This is the second time in a week that Sentaor Kedzie and his staffers have been caught in a lie. Last week Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Kedzie’s chief of staff repeatedly told constituents that Kedzie had not signed a secrecy agreement with the law firm retained the Republican legislative leaders to draw up new legislative and congressional redistricting maps last year. The agreements were made public last week as part of a legal challenge to the maps, including one with Kedzie’s signature on it.

In a memo from the law firm Michael, Best and Friedrich enumerating talking points for Republican lawmakers as they engage the public about the maps, one stood out: “Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments.”

Ignoring public comments seems to be the guiding principle for the Republicans in all of their endeavors this year. Senator Kedzie’s broken promises do not bode well for relations between the tribes and the State of Wisconsin. Before the Assembly vote on AB 426 last month, Bad River tribal members vowed to fight any bill that would allow for the pollution and environmental destruction of the Penokee Hills and the headwaters of the Bad River upon which the tribe depends. This fight will escalate with the release of this bill and the continued disregard of public comments, treaty rights and the Public Trust Doctrine by Republican lawmakers.

Rebecca Kemble is an Anthropologist who studied decolonization in Kenya. She serves on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and as the President of the Dane County TimeBank.