Mining committee hears from tribal representativeDemocrats on the Senate Select Committee on Mining rebuked a Republican Thursday for trying to find if tribal governments will reject future mining proposals.
By: By Kevin Murphy, For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
MADISON — Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Mining rebuked a Republican Thursday for trying to find if tribal governments will reject future mining proposals.
After listening for about 30 minutes to Ann McCammon-Soltis, of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission discusses tribal involvement in resource decisions, State Sen. Glen Grothman, R-West Bend, wanted to cut to the chase and find out if the tribes will accept any mining proposals.
“Are the tribes OK with a Penokee Hills project,” Grothman asked McCammon-Soltis.
“It’s hard to comment on a project that hasn’t (had) a proposal,” she replied.
Although the GLIFWC isn’t authorized to speak in behalf of particular tribes, McCammon-Soltis said the Bad River Tribe would be very concerned about a “giant mine that affects their watershed.”
Grothman said he was concerned the tribes would never “sign off “on proposals to mine iron ore again in northern Wisconsin and assumed that tribes “up there” would fight against even a “good, clean mine.”
State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who chairs the committee told Grothman it “was not fair” to ask Soltis what a tribe may do but it would more appropriate to ask a Bad River Tribal representative.
Grothman persisted and wanted to know if tribes will use their authority to “throw up roadblocks to any proposal” or will they use their power “to get a good, clean mine. It will affect our approach.”
State Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said the committee’s approach is to “talk about the process not an outcome.”
“Our role is not to determine the outcome of a project that hasn’t been proposed yet … And I don’t want to pit tribes against others. I want to understand their legal authority, how will they use it, how will it involve the (Environmental Protection Agency) and other federal agencies,” Jauch said.
Tribes don’t have veto authority over mining permit decisions, said Jauch, but, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers review permits for compliance with federal regulations and to ensure tribal treaty rights in ceded lands are upheld
“The state can’t pretend those (agencies) don’t exist,” he said.
Cullen asked for committee members’ patience saying three hearings were scheduled to flesh out how mining is regulated, what roles state, federal and tribal agencies have in the process and how to improve it.
While committees typically hear from the public about specific legislation and then vote either to kill it or approve it for a vote in the Senate or Assembly, Cullen said this will be an educational process toward developing legislation that applies to mining in all areas of the state.
State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, one of four Republicans on the committee, said he agreed with Jauch — the state needs to consult with tribes on resource decisions on lands they ceded to the U.S. before statehood.
“It’s important because it’s required by law and it’s the way you deal with people to move things along such as creating jobs.”
State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, came to Grothman’s defense saying the primer on treaty rights was helpful but “we’re here to figure out how do we proceed … How will we handle the obstacles to mining?”
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, agreed the state needs to move forward on mining legislation but not before committee members “know all the facts.”
“That was part of the problem last session, we didn’t know the process. I know the tribes play a role but I’m learning what that is today. Don’t put the cart before the horse,” he said.
When McCammon-Soltis continued her presentation Grothman left the hearing and didn’t return before the noon break.
The committee was to hear from representatives of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers during an afternoon session.
Next Tuesday, the committee will hear from the Wisconsin Mining Association, League of Conservation Voters and Clean Wisconsin.