Back to the Future: Mining Edition

For a state that has an actual, real miner stamped on it’s state flag, Wisconsin certainly has had a love-hate relationship with the industry. At least in modern times. Both houses are working to salvage a mining bill this week. Jobs, the environment, and Indian treaty rights are colliding over proposed mineral sites in Ashland and Iron County. Those were also the components that sparked intense political debate over an Exxon proposed mining site in the Crandon area in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

Political pressure from combined forces led to a stand still for the Exxon project. It also paved the way for, again under political pressure, then-Governor Tommy Thompson signing a mining moratorium bill in 1998. The moratorium mandated that mining companies must prove similar mines had existed safely before the state would grant permits.

The latest Assembly mining proposal simplifies the process mining companies must undergo to get a mine permit. As in previous decades, Indian opposition is strenuous.  Bad River tribal officials have indicated they may have treaty authorities that will prevent mining in Ashland and Iron Counties. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision stated that tribes have the power to set their own, potentially more restrictive regulations than the state on mines that could impact tribal air and water quality.

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