In a headlong rush to speed up the mining of low-grade iron ore (taconite) in northern Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Legislature rewrote the state's metallic mining laws in 2013, after months of contentious debate and controversy.
These changes have weakened good, long-standing laws governing mining. Wisconsin's mining laws had been on the books for decades and were developed with public interests and the mining industry at the table. The revised law was written with mining interests at the keyboard, and the new law limits public scrutiny of mining proposals. The new law means that mines will be built at great expense to Wisconsin's environment.
People in the northern Wisconsin counties of Ashland and Iron, and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibway, feel put upon by the new mining law: it was written for the express purpose of opening an iron mine in the Penokee hills, near Mellen, in the Bad River watershed. Few objective scientific analyses show that iron mining at this location – with its prospect of destroying wetlands and headwaters and producing thousands of tons of waste rock, billions of gallons of process water containing tailings, and possible toxic byproducts like acid mine drainage and asbestos – will not be monumentally harmful.
River Alliance is supporting this effort by connecting the many organizations educating the public and elected officials about the impacts a mine like this would have on all of the waters in the Bad River Watershed, including Lake Superior. Along with the Bad River Watershed Association, we organized two "Summits for the Watershed" where both local and statewide organizations came together to develop individual and collective strategies to prevent harm to the waters of the Penokee Hills.
We have also hired a local coordinator to help these organizations stay connected and support their work.