Search This Blog

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ojibwe Buzz Saw

Sometimes it is an all-out war on people, and the environment:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker... is soon to run head on, or rear on, into the buzz saw that is the angry Ojibwe woman in full out defense mode.

He and his fellow Republicans have finally pushed a mining bill through the legislature that will allow the creation of a huge open pit iron ore mine just south of the Bad River Ojibwe reservation on the shores of Lake Superior. A similar bill was narrowly defeated in 2011, igniting some of the most vocal environmental protests that the state has seen in years.  (See my stories for the Yonder and Indian Country Today Media Network for more background.) The Republican dominated assembly and senate, however, redrafted the bill that handily passed both houses this week.  Gov. Walker is expected to sign the legislation this week and probably anticipates smooth sailing for the much-touted jobs bill.

Republicans maintain that by diminishing current mining laws, the new bill will help create jobs in the economically depressed northern part of the state. Tribal members and concerned citizens, however, argue that the proposed open pit iron mine will pose serious environmental hazards to the water, wildlife and quality of life in this pristine woodland.  Indeed, the language in the new law presumes damage to wetlands and includes a mitigation plan that Democrats argue is not viable.
and  the damage which is foreseen by the bill's proponents:
Gov. Scott Walker's comments Thursday to The Business Journal in Milwaukee are typical: “We are going to go forward with a permitting process that still protects our natural resources. It’s incredibly important to tourism, it’s important to agriculture and timber in (northern Wisconsin). We’re not going to do something that jeopardizes that.”
But the main author of the controversial mining bill that's moving quickly through the Republican-led state Legislature admitted otherwise on Thursday.
And, with numerous groups already vowing to challenge the bill in court, Sen. Tom Tiffany also acknowledged that changes were made to the legislation to put the state on stronger legal ground to withstand such a challenge.
“The bill reflects the reality of mining. There are going to be some impacts to the environment above the iron ore body,” said Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst. “If the law is challenged and ends up in court, the judge needs to know it was the Legislature’s intent to allow adverse (environmental) impacts. That way, a judge can’t find fault if the environment is impacted.”
Tiffany made the admission after being asked Thursday in an interview with the Cap Times how Republicans could continue to claim the mining bill doesn't risk environmental harm when:
  • It specifically changes the wording of existing state permitting law from “significant adverse affects (to wetlands) are presumed to be unnecessary” to “significant adverse affects are presumed to be necessary.
  • Bill Williams, present of Gogebic Taconite, which is proposing a massive iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties, said in a recent Wisconsin State Journal article that as much as 30 to 40 percent of the 3,300 acres it is leasing could be covered by waste piles if it builds a $1.2 billion open-pit iron ore mine.
  • The land above the rich vein of iron ore contains hundreds of acres of wetlands, numerous pristine trout streams and several small tributaries that feed into the Bad River. The Bad River wends its way to Lake Superior through the Bad River Indian Reservation, which includes culturally and economically significant rice beds.
“We are simply being honest,” Tiffany says. “There will be some impacts but they will be limited. Changing the word 'unnecessary' to 'necessary' lets the judge know it was the Legislature’s intent that there will be some adverse impacts.”
People differ on how they value things, but I admire Sen. Tiffany for his honesty.
Gov. Walker, however, is typical of so many of the power elite for whom Truth and Honesty are like poker chips.

No comments: