Water Quality Network: Those responsible for bringing mining to Wisconsin’s water-rich environment


September through December of 2017 was a fast paced period when major changes affected the future of Wisconsin’s natural environment. By design, there was limited public knowledge about what some members of the State Legislature were up to.

Wisconsin had a single-page law in place since 1998 (Act 171) that inserted a simple concept into the more comprehensive Chapter 293 Nonferrous Metallic Mining statute. The newly created section 293.50 stated there will be a “moratorium on issuance of permits for mining of sulfide ore bodies” until a few conditions be met. A metallic sulfide mine, that has an acid generating potential and operated in the U.S. or Canada, had to demonstrate that groundwater or surface water had not been polluted by acid drainage or from the release of heavy metals. An example mine also had to show that after being closed for at least 10 years that the mine did not pollute any water by acid drainage or the release of heavy metals. Acid drainage is also referred to as Acid Mine Drainage or AMD. Heavy metals are mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium, and they are the toxins that negatively affect human health. Because Section 293.50 asked for proof of a mine operating for 10 years, and then closing for ten years without causing pollution, before the DNR could issue a permit to mine in Wisconsin, the law was referred to as the “Prove It First” law. The common sense requirement to demonstrate that metallic sulfide mining could be done without causing environmental pollution was hailed as an example of responsible regulation.

In the fall of 2017, after major influence from pro-mining interest groups, the Legislature decided that the time for applying common sense to mining regulation was over. No example mine could meet the criteria of the Prove It First law. Yet, negotiations began on the 2017 Assembly Bill (AB 499) which was designed to get rid of obstacles to mining. After only two months of discussions, and very limited public input opportunity, enough Assembly Members and Senators voted for AB 499 that created a new law promoting Nonferrous Metallic Mining. With the short phrase “293.50 of the statutes is repealed”, Act 134 completely eliminated the Prove It First requirement from Chapter 293. After 20 years of safeguarding the water-rich environment of Wisconsin, Act 134 ushered in a new era of potential damage from the most costly tax-payer funded problem in the EPA’s Superfund Clean-up Program. The EPA refers to these economically debilitating – and eternally burdensome – areas as Abandoned Mine Lands. Metallic mines and smelting facilities plague America with long-term problems and are prominently listed on the EPA’s National Priorities List.

Within months of Act 134 passing, a Canadian mineral exploration company teamed up with a large scale Timberland Investment Management Organization (TIMO) forestland owner, and began mineral exploration to determine if the headwaters region of the Wolf River was a good place to develop an open-pit mine.

You can see who supported and voted for AB 499 by reviewing the Assembly voting record for AB 499 and the Senate voting record for AB 499. Many of these Legislators are still in office and promoting metallic sulfide mining. Recently a new bill (AB 756) was introduced to repeal damaging mining laws and restore common sense environmental regulation. It did not progress due to the current make-up of the Legislature.

How do citizens preserve their health and assets?

Citizens need to understand which politicians promote metallic sulfide mining in Wisconsin. People need to know who the law-makers are that support the legislation that legalizes mining in the water-rich environment of Wisconsin. For change to happen, the voters must vote to take control of their future and not leave it up to the pro-mining interests to damage their health and assets. Change will only happen when enough people vote those law-makers out of office and replace them with politicians that are on the side of the citizens.

You can find out who your Legislators are to see which ones are still in office and considering running for office again. Compare the voting records of those who voted for AB 499 that led to Act 134 with the results from searching for your Assembly Members and Senators. Use this information to be an informed voter.