Correcting the JS on Mining
Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce is trying to set the record straight, arguing that a recent Journal Sentinel editorial "contained numerous inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims" about pending legislation that would open the way for iron ore mining in northern Wisconsin.
TO: Wisconsin Legislators
FROM: Scott Manley, Director of Environmental & Energy Policy
DATE: December 21, 2011
RE: Mining Legislation – Inaccurate Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial
The editorial against Assembly Bill 426 appearing in the December 18, 2011 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contained numerous inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims about the iron mining legislation.
While we expect environmental groups to engage in this level of hyperbole, it is unfortunate that a newspaper failed to substantiate their claims before using them in an editorial.
In order to further a factual and honest debate about this legislation, we have taken the time to refute the false statements from the Journal Sentinel’s editorial with the information below.
False Statement: The bill would allow mining corporations to dump toxic waste into wetlands.
Reality Check: This is completely false, and ridiculous. Like current law, the bill requires any mining company to go through a permitting process before disturbing any wetland. The Wisconsin DNR and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot grant a wetland permit unless applicable water quality standards will be met.
Iron mining does not use toxic chemicals in the mining process. The bill requires the handling of all solid waste to be approved by the DNR, including a requirement that mining wastes cannot be deposited if the wastes will result in a violation of applicable surface water, groundwater or wetland water quality standards.
It is worth noting that current law does not require mitigation for wetland impacts occurring as part of a mining project. Assembly Bill 426 requires compensation activities and/or mitigation at a ratio of up to 1.5 to 1 for each acre of wetland adversely impacted in the mining process. As a result, the bill may result in a net increase of wetland acreage in our state.
False Statement: The bill endangers the ability of homeowners in flood plains to obtain insurance.
Reality Check: This statement is totally unfounded. The bill does not address the purchase of flood plain insurance at all. In fact, the bill prohibits any construction in a shoreland or flood plain area unless doing so is authorized by the DNR.
False Statement: The bill would allow mining corporations to contaminate the groundwater of neighboring properties.
Reality Check: This statement is completely false. The Bill requires baseline monitoring to determine the water quality before any mining takes place, and to continue the monitoring during construction and operation of the mine. The bill also deals with any contaminant elevations similarly to existing law, and in a way that must be approved by the DNR. Moreover, the bill explicitly prohibits DNR from issuing a surface or groundwater withdrawal permit if doing so would be significantly detrimental to water quality or quantity.
False Statement: The bill would allow mining operations to inflict significant damage to the environment provided that the company agrees to mitigation.
Reality Check: This statement is simply inaccurate. The bill requires any mining company to obtain state and/or federal environmental permits before doing any regulated activity. When evaluating impacts to water resources, the bill prohibits DNR from issuing a permit if doing so would cause any significant impacts to public rights, reduce the flood flow capacity of a stream, impact rights of riparian owners, or degrade water quality.
False Statement: The bill would allow iron mining laws to supersede all other environmental regulations.
Reality Check: Once again, this statement is inaccurate and misleading. The bill does specify in section 295.75 that if certain statutes and rules conflict with the bill, the provisions of the bill will control. However, this does not mean that iron mining laws will “supersede all other environmental regulations.” On the contrary, the bill does not supersede or alter our state air quality standards (NR 404) or water quality standards (NR 102). These public health-based standards remain as they are under current law.
False Statement: The bill requires the DNR to review a mining permit in 360 days, which is much shorter than the 3 ½ year average of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Reality Check: The characterization about federal permitting is misleading. First, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not issue mining permits, so there is no “average” time for their review of mining applications. Notably , Minnesota and Michigan have 120-180 day deadlines for iron mining permits. The 360 day timeline proposed in Assembly Bill 426 is significantly longer than those of our neighboring states.
False Statement: The bill removes the contested case hearing process, which gives citizens the opportunity to challenge data and question mining officials.
Reality Check: This statement is misleading. The “contested case hearing” is not a public hearing, it’s a quasi-judicial trial with sworn testimony and cross examination. We do not believe that building a mandatory lawsuit into the permit process is consistent with efforts to streamline permitting. If people are interested in filing lawsuits, they have every rights to do so, as the bill does not change the right challenge the issuance of a mining permit in circuit court.
False Statement: The bill requires only one public hearing for an entire mining project; current law requires three.
Reality Check: This statement is false. The bill requires at least two public hearings, one of which takes place even before an application is filed to solicit public input. The bill also allows the DNR to hold as many other hearings as they deem necessary. In addition to the public hearings on the mining permit, the other environmental permits needed for the mine (air permits, water permits, wetland permits, EIS, etc.) have a public comment process that allows citizens to provide input. To imply that the bill cuts the public out of the permitting process is simply wrong.