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Democratic state Senate candidates butt heads over role of EPA in mining area

Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

The three Democrats running for the open state Senate seat that includes the Penokee Hills have different opinions on whether federal regulators should suspend mining activity. At a recent debate held at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center near Ashland, the candidates offered differing views.

Next month, the Chippewa Federation will meet with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to urge officials to stop mining activity by Gogebic Taconite. They want regulators to decide if the proposed open pit iron ore mine in the ceded territory of the Penokees would cause irreparable harm to the watershed and Lake Superior. 

Perennial candidate Gary Kauther, of Poplar, said he doesn’t like that idea.

“Let’s put some people to work. All I’m seeing when they talk about the EPA stepping in and more regulation and this and that is delay tactics,” Kauther said. 

Park Falls Mayor Tom Ratzlaff said he also doesn’t want the EPA to invoke a section of the Clean Water Act that would suspend mining activity.

“I would not be in favor of that. I think you let the process go forward, as it should, in all fairness to everyone. But, I think you let the science come out to say what needs to be done, and that process is ongoing,” Ratzlaff said.

Ratzlaff also said state and federal officials should work together. 

But, state Rep. Janet Bewley, of Ashland, said new state mining rules make that impossible.

“I’m recalling hearing many of the people who were in support of the legislation when it came to the relaxation of wetland standards: ‘Don’t worry. Don’t worry. The DNR and the EPA are going to be able to do their jobs,’ she said. "Yet, I’m hearing the people sitting at the table with me saying they wouldn’t want the EPA to do its job.” 

The winner of the primary faces Republican Dane Deutsch, of Rice Lake.

The seat is open because state Sen. Bob Jauch is retiring.

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