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Wisconsin Lakes News Update

Lake Policy Report

Mining Deregulation Bill Heads to Hearing

After passing out of its Senate committee last week on a partisan vote, a bill that would allow mining for certain metals in the state with limited environmental oversight or controls gets a hearing this Friday in the Assembly.

AB499 (SB395 in the Senate) would repeal Wisconsin’s “prove it first” mining law, which says that before a “non-ferrous” mine (a mine for metals other than iron) may be approved in the state, the operator must show that such a mine can operate without environmental harm for a period of years. In its place would be a structure of limited regulation with limited to non-existent permitting, restrictions on citizen input and ability to challenge the project, and a relaxation of groundwater and some other environmental standards.

The bill raises special concerns as the type of mining it would deregulate is generally called “sulfide” mining because of the sulfuric acid created while extracting the ore from its surrounding rock. Such mines have caused disastrous environmental consequences around the world, and proponents have failed to show such mining can be conducted safely.

For that reason, Wisconsin Lakes is OPPOSED to this legislation. In addition to the threat to the lakes themselves (a spill at one proposed mine could easily impact Lake Wausau, to provide just one real world example), we see this as a needless risk to the bedrock economic benefits our waters provide the state, for a fleeting and limited economic gain.

As our Executive Director, Michael Engleson, said in a letter to the Senate committee before its vote, "Our lakes and rivers are a source of sustainable economic development, if kept clean and safe. Certainly Wisconsin cannot survive on only our strong recreational and tourism economy, but lakes, if protected, endure. Mines come, and then go away. We should protect the long-term, sustainable economic generators before providing handouts to companies that cannot show their practices are safe."

The full Senate is expected to take up the bill later this month, so it is important the Assembly committee hears from you in regards to this bill.
If attending the hearing in Madison on Friday is a possibility, it would send a strong message, but certainly letters, emails, and phone calls to your own legislators as well as members of the committee are proper and important.
The Board of Directors of Wisconsin Lakes understands that economic development is important. But it voted unanimously to oppose this bill because the mission of Wisconsin Lakes is to protect our waters from harm, and the risks inherent in rolling back environmental protections as contemplated by this bill simply do not outweigh whatever potential benefits may or may not arise.