Workers’ futures need consideration over iron miningOur legislature is yet again embroiled in debate over a special interest giveaway — one that is bad for open government, bad for our economy and bad for the environment.
By: By Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, Superior Telegram
Our legislature is yet again embroiled in debate over a special interest giveaway — one that is bad for open government, bad for our economy and bad for the environment.
This time, the big corporate beneficiary is the mining industry — specifically the West Virginia company Gogebic Taconite. This company wants the legislature to relax Wisconsin’s permitting process and eliminate environmental safeguards to ease the way for a massive iron ore strip-mining project in Northern Wisconsin.
Two weeks ago, Assembly Republicans revealed the product of their secret, closed-door negotiations with Gogebic Taconite — a 183-page bill that paves the way for decades of environmental degradation and big profits for this corporation. Buried on page 146 is a jaw-dropping single sentence that allowing mines to circumvent environmental protections if the permitting agency decides the promise of jobs, economic activity or tax revenue are more important.
The bill also weakens wetland regulations and eliminates the ability of citizens to sue to enforce compliance.
We must consider the long-term economic consequences of strip-mining on one of Wisconsin’s core industries, tourism, which brings an estimated $12 billion into Wisconsin annually, thanks in part to our spectacular waterways and pristine Lake Superior. There will also be public health costs; the Minnesota DNR found that taconite mining was the second-largest source of poisonous mercury emissions after coal power plants, and research suggests that it may be linked to escalated levels of cancer for workers.
We ought to be skeptical of rosy claims by pro-mining interests. While mining may have the potential to bring much-needed jobs to Wisconsin, serious questions remain about whether Wisconsin workers will be hired.
Since the machines used in today’s strip mines required highly skilled operators, the corporation may find it more profitable to import experienced workers from other states. We certainly need jobs, and Gov. Scott Walker is falling far short of his campaign promise to create 250,000. Let’s not be fooled into believing that corporate giveaways can substitute for real efforts to develop sustainable, family supporting jobs without potentially devastating costs to our environment, health and economy.
Wisconsinites deserve the opportunity to consider seriously this fundamental policy change — before we open up our state’s beautiful hills to strip-mining. We cannot allow our state’s natural resources to be sold to the highest bidder, at the expense of our long-term economic and environmental health.
Gov. Walker and his Assembly Republican allies should stop crafting back room deals for corporate interests — and start working to repair the damage they’ve caused to Wisconsin’s reputation for clean, open government.
Rep. Kelda Helen Roys is a Democrat representing the Madison area.