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Scott Walker owes his political existence to billionaires. While we often focus on his gifts from the Koch brothers, there are others with very deep pockets, contempt for democracy, and disregard for environmental protections. One such billionaire is Chris Cline.

Cline made his fortune by buying up coal mines in Illinois when the high sulfur content of their coal hurt demand. With sulfide scrubbers now installed on many coal-fired power plants, those mines are churning out billions in profits for another secretive billionaire with a dirty energy legislative agenda. Like all coal industry thugs, he promotes climate change disinformation.

Cline says he was so annoyed when his children’s teachers in Palm Beach, Florida, aired Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” that he asked them to distribute literature that showed that climate change may be caused by clusters of sunspots or the Earth wobbling on its axis, not just carbon. When they refused, he complained to school fundraisers.

Bloomberg, article by John Lippert & Mario Parker

Cline's latest brainchild is to create the world's largest open pit iron mine in Wisconsin to gouge out very low grade iron ore (taconite), which must be heavily processed to separate usable ore from impurities. The toxic waste from the processing is dumped into massive tailing ponds where it leaches into groundwater and surface waters. Like every other surface mine in America, it will be abandoned when no longer profitable and the mess will be left to others to clean up.

In order for Cline, Walker, and minions to have their way, the entire process of environmental oversight in Wisconsin must be torn apart. A bill has now been sent to the legislature for a vote to strip environmental protections for Cline's massive mine. If passed, the Ojibwe people living downstream will be the beneficiaries of the toxins produced in enormous quantities from the mine.  

Here are a few of the gifts created by Republicans for Cline and his Gogebic Taconite subsidiary.

-- sets a short deadline (420 days) to complete all environmental impact studies. Hydrological studies, necessary for mine that will create massive toxic tailing ponds and threaten the surrounding groundwater and surface waters, often take several years to complete and require revisions to permit applications. The goal of the legislation is to prevent hydrological studies from delaying the project and creating more stringent requirements for water protection.

A hydrological study takes a minimum of 2 years of field studies to create an accurate model. There are limited requirements in the legislation for data sharing, peer reviews of the methods used or joint analysis between the company and the DNR. If the DNR doesn’t have the information it needs to make an informed decision, it would only have 420 days to complete its work, too short a time to complete an alternative study.

Nature Conservancy testimony

-- guts water protections, allowing for wetlands destruction, shoreline degradation, and tailing pond location without regard to groundwater impairment.
This bill, as written, exacerbates those risks by allowing alterations of lake beds, streams and rivers, as well as the outright destruction of any wetland. It allows waste piles to be steeper and located in or adjacent to hydric soils. It removes shore land zoning requirements and protections for wetlands. When taken in totality, these changes pose a heightened risk to surrounding waters and eliminate nature’s ability to mitigate those damages. If a mine is to succeed in an area as sensitive as the Penokee Hills without causing environmental harm, we believe it is critical that these resources are not degraded on site.

Nature Conservancy testimony

-- opposition to strict royalty requirements per ton of ore extracted. Republicans demand Wisconsin tax payers receive less benefit than neighboring states.
Mining companies would be taxed based on their income, but Democrats argue the firms could easily avoid paying taxes. They wanted to charge mining companies $2 per long ton of iron ore removed from the ground, because companies could not get around paying such taxes. Republicans rejected the provision, which was based on a Minnesota law, saying without it Wisconsin would be more competitive than its neighbors.
-- reduce waste charges for rock mining operations from $7.03 a ton to $0.03 a ton. This will cost the state over $170 million a year. (h/t Habitat Vic)
Part of the proposal would drastically reduce state fees that mining companies pay for producing waste rock. Mining companies currently pay $7.03 per ton of waste rock. Most of that money goes to help fund local governments' recycling efforts, pollution abatement, brownfield cleanup and bonds for cleaning up contaminated land.

According to estimates the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released Wednesday, the bill would slash that to a little less than 3 cents, resulting in a loss of up to $171 million annually.

-- the environmental exemptions only apply to iron mines.

--eliminates requirements for reclamation to natural state. Most mines are abandoned rather than reclaimed, particularly if there is no trust fund established to cover costs while mine is profitable. Gogebic Taconite will not even be required to replace destroyed vegetation with indigenous species.

 photo Corbis-LG002804_zps5685d35e.jpg

Taconite tailing pond, Michigan, photograph by Lowell Georgia, Corbis

The proposed mine site is in the Bad River watershed and upstream from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation. The air and water pollution will be a threat to their health. The tribe is strongly opposed to the mine and promises legal action to stop the permitting process.

Tribal opposition to the mine has largely been ignored. Here is a portion of a letter from the tribe Chairman Mike Wiggins Jr. to one of the Republican state senators responsible for the mine-friendly legislation:

 photo 20130201mikewigginslettertosentiffanypg1_zps7d182cdc.jpg
Read the whole letter. It is one of the most succinct and powerful indictments of pay-to-play government policies I have ever seen.

The concluding paragraph says it all.

Legislation - which would have a tremendous impact on the natural resources of the state and certainly upon the safety and well-being of citizens belonging to Native American communities, without even consulting the Bad River and other Native American Sovereign Nations, and without allowing for the participation of potentially affected Native American individuals - does not deserve a vote.
The tribe's website has an excellent RSS feed of information about the mine and related environmental legislation.

Yet another misleading employment projection has been produced by the mining industry for the Gogebic Taconite project. It uses employment figures for underground mines and the mining industry in general to estimate direct job creation (even though this is a surface mining operation which will employ a tiny fraction of that number). Equally phony are the indirect job numbers from transportation, which assumes all the ore will be trucked to markets instead of building rail spurs and barge offloading facilities on Lake Superior. Conservatives eat up this bull crap like it's steak and caviar (for their benefactors).

I have seen the same gimmicks used in every fossil fuel project I have seen recently, including the Keystone XL pipeline, gas drilling in Pennsylvania, and power plants in Texas. The reports pop up when ethically and intellectually bankrupt politicians need something to wave during the permitting process. The promised jobs and economic benefits never materialize, but corporate profits never fail to match expectations. Funny how that works.

Walker's corporate tax breaks welfare and attacks on collective bargaining and public sector employees have produced a faltering economy in Wisconsin. The job creation promises of the Gogebic Taconite mine are just another dog-and-pony act in a circus fit for a Kafka novel.

The last time that Wisconsin appeared in a national ranking of the Quarterly Census, it was for the 12 months through June 2012. Then, Wisconsin ranked 42 out of the 50 states in private-sector job creation, a decline from a rank of 37 in the previous period, from March 2011 to March 2012.

That makes Wisconsin a laggard in job creation even by the glacial standards of the national recovery, which has moved far too slowly to absorb the millions of unemployed left over from the 2007-'09 recession.

Lester Pines, an attorney for a group fighting the weakening of environmental requirements, had the best summary of the Walker administration.
"Their economic development strategy is to go back to the 19th century - low wages, low taxes and extraction."
Mr. Pines, you forgot abuse, exploitation, and trampling the rights of Native Americans. It is definitely back to the 19th century.

Originally posted to DWG on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 10:16 AM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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