Wisconsin’s Mining Moratorium Under Attack

Wisconsin’s Mining Moratorium Under Attack

As new confirmation that sulfide mining is unsafe surfaces, Wisconsin lawmakers move forward plans to open new sulfide mining

Deemed a serious threat to water quality by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, acid mine drainage from sulfide mining has already polluted more than 12,000 miles of rivers and streams and over 180,000 acres of lakes and impoundments in the United States. Until recently, Wisconsin has shown some of the strongest leadership in the world protecting their environment from the devastating impacts of sulfide mining with their “Prove it First” law. This law requires that before the state will allow new sulfide mine, there needs to be proof that a sulfide mine has been successfully reclaimed and not polluted nearby waters.

Proponents of mining in Wisconsin tout the closed Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, Wisconsin as safe so that some lawmakers, with strong support from Governor Walker, are quickly moving to get rid of the “Prove it First” law, and want to replace it with new regulation that dramatically weakens environmental protections. However, a recent lawsuit found the reclamation of the Flambeau Mine is not the success some proclaim. The Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and citizen Laura Gauger sued Flambeau Mining Company in a federal court over violations of the Clean Water Act. The Court found numerous violations that were subject to penalties. The chief concerns are related to the toxic copper and zinc discharges that have been running off the site for the past 14 years and continue today. Recently, in this once pristine area, a stream has been listed as “impaired” because of this pollution. These findings conclude that indeed the Ladysmith mine is not the success many had hoped, further proving that sulfide mining is a serious threat to our waters.

Simultaneously, a massive open pit sulfide mine is being proposed in the Bad River watershed’s Penokee Range. The Penokee Range extends 25 miles, covering 22,000 acres through some of the designated highest quality rivers in Wisconsin and the largest undeveloped wetland complex in the upper Great Lakes. The Range includes 71 miles of rivers and streams that empty into the Bad River and continues on to Lake Superior. The surface and groundwater originating there is the source drinking water for six municipalities.

As decision makers in Wisconsin consider making changes to open a new sulfide mine and get rid of their “Prove it First” law, we hope they look at the facts the Flambeau mine offers—sulfide mining has not been proven safe and Wisconsin’s waters are polluted because of it. At the time of writing this, over 70 environmental and conservation organizations have signed a letter to legislators asking that they reject the changes to Wisconsin’s mining laws.

Dave Blouin, the Mining Committee Chair, Sierra Club—John Muir Chapter and Al Gedicks, the Executive Secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, are helping lead efforts in Wisconsin to protect the “Prove it First Law” and protect Wisconsin’s waters from the harmful impacts of sulfide mining. If you want to learn more about their efforts, contact Dave at burroak15@charter.net or visit http://wisconsin.sierraclub.org/PenokeeMine.asp or Al at agedicks@uwlax.edu or visit www.wrpc.net.

 

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