Free Tuesday Trends sample: Mining tensions rising, UW tuition mixed and We Energies falling

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RISING

Mining tensions: After a lengthy fight in the state Legislature, both sides of the debate over iron mining in northern Wisconsin are now locked in a war of words over conditions near a test drilling site. Democrats and environmentalists protest loudly after mining company Gogebic Taconite hires private security to keep watch on its site in the Penokee Hills. Local Democratic lawmakers describe them as commando-style guards with assault weapons, decrying what they see as an over-the-top response to the presence of protesters. The company initially fires back that the guards are necessary due to the tactics of opponents — accusing protesters of violent attacks on company equipment and personnel — then backtracks slightly after news breaks that an Arizona firm isn’t licensed to operate in Wisconsin. Conservatives and mine supporters, meanwhile, push back with a video they say demonstrates why the company has to protect its property and workers, and Gov. Scott Walker chimes in that footage of a June incident between protesters and employees justifies the company’s decision. Meanwhile, Gogebic’s president won’t be charged after a member of the Bad River Chippewa claims he “ripped” a cell phone from his hand while recording an exchange with a county supervisor.

MIXED

UW tuition: The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents votes to broaden the tuition freeze originally targeted at only in-state undergraduate students. At the board’s meeting in Madison, regents approve the UW System’s 2013-2014 operating budget, which freezes in-state undergraduate tuition as required by the new state budget. But the proposal also freezes tuition for graduate students and non-resident undergraduates, and a proposal from the flagship Madison campus to increase tuition in four professional programs is tabled. UW officials had indicated the additional freezes sought to increase revenue by attracting more out-of-state and international students. But UW-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward — who’s stepping down this month as Rebecca Blank takes over the chancellor’s office — says campus leaders should consider increasing out-of-state tuition to the level of peer institutions, calling the current level “embarrassing.” Regents and UW officials also discuss the need for a long-term approach to tuition policy in the wake of large cash reserves disclosed earlier this year. The reserve level — which led to the tuition freeze requirement — currently stands at more than $785 million, but UW officials say that will be cut nearly in half next year to account for lost tuition dollars and state funding.

FALLING

We Energies: The utility will pay $100,000 for environmental violations leading up to a bluff collapse that sent debris — some toxic — into Lake Michigan in 2011. The Department of Justice announces the settlement with Wisconsin Electric Power Company after prosecutors alleged We Energies improperly constructed a retention pond at its plant in Oak Creek — including building the pond outside the area approved by the DNR, failing to notify DNR about completing 50 percent of the project and failing to revise erosion control plans. DNR personnel discovered the violations following the bluff collapse at the Oak Creek site.