Joint mining hearing and Mike Wiggins interview

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Joint mining hearing and Mike Wiggins interview

Premiere Date: 
January 24, 2013

Legislators hold a hearing on the mining bill and Mike Wiggins explains his opposition.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Now to state mining news. On Wednesday, a joint panel on mining heard 12 hours of testimony on the GOP-backed mining bill. That proposal streamlines the approval process for mining and has the approval of the Gogebic Mining Company, or G-TAC, that is looking to mine iron ore in Iron and Ashland Counties. As we reported last week, Democratic senator Tim Cullen authored an alternative bill, one that he said, unlike the Republican version, will keep environmental protections intact. Cullen and Republican Dale Schultz unveiled the bill at a joint press conference Tuesday. The Cullen-Schultz Bill also gives the state DNR more time to approve a mine, and calls for a new tax on iron ore. Wednesday the state capitol was filled with citizens and special interests bringing in their views from across the state.  

George Meyer:

These bills will substantially reduce current environmental protections for what will be the largest-- the largest open-pit taconite mine in the world.

Steven Ewing:

The last thing in the world I want to see is my land or water in any way compromised, yet I am standing before you in 100% support of that mine. This mining legislation will not compromise our standards.

Frederica Freyberg:

The push and pull over mining comes from a mining company interested in drilling into the iron-rich hills of Ashland and Iron Counties, an area of the state that one Democratic state lawmaker said will impact the lands held by the Chippewa nation.

Nick Milroy:

One of the most sacred things in the catholic church is the Eucharist. Wild rice is the Eucharist of the Ojibwa people. If we take that away from them, we take away everything that they believe in.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Nick Milroy of South Range speaking at Wednesday's mining hearing. Chippewa tribal members also spoke at the hearing, including the chairman of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa, Mike Wiggins. Chairman Wiggins joins us now from Superior.   Thanks very much for doing so.

Mike Wiggins:

Thank you, ma’am. Good to be here.

Frederica Freyberg:

As we just heard, in a sound bite, Representative Milroy spoke about how wild rice would be taken away by the mine. How so?  

Mike Wiggins:

Well, essentially it has to do with the geologic composition of the waste rock and the mountain itself. There's a tremendous amount of sulfites in the waste rock. Sulfites have been shown, as represented in case law, like up in Minnesota-- sulfites have been shown to decimate wild rice crops when it gets into the waterways and ultimately into the wild rice. I think the standard in Minnesota is no greater pollution than 10 parts per million. That's being litigated now in Minnesota, because the mining companies want to be able to pollute more, even though there are wild rice dead zones, where historically there was always a prevalence of wild rice.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, Republican Tom Tiffany, chair of the senate's mining panel, is quoted as saying that his attempts to contact the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, namely you, to talk about iron mining legislation have gone unanswered, but that despite tribal influence, he says, on environmental matters, decisions must still be based on sound science. So first to the, what he calls, the unanswered invitation. Do you intend to meet with Senator Tiffany?

Mike Wiggins:

Well, depending on the process. You know, it seems to be moving very fast and there's also contradictory comments coming from the legislators, where essentially they're putting forth a notion that they have no need to consult with the tribes, or that essentially the consultation would take place after the legislation is passed. I believe Senator Tiffany alluded to a letter he sent me in December. I have staff looking for that. And if that is the case, I mean, it's unfortunate that I didn't see that. But I think, you know, meeting to talk about this legislation is one thing. I think we've been very clear in our efforts to try and reach legislators over the last, you know, year and a half to two years on this issue. As far as the legislation being based on sound science, Senator Tiffany is essentially meeting with G-TAC, and the mining company is just one voice in what is really the commons here, and that is waters, groundwater aquifers and the air quality.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is the sound science, apart from G-TAC, that says that an iron ore mine would damage the watershed in or near tribal lands?

Mike Wiggins:

Well, essentially, in the testimony that was given to Senator Tiffany and the others, there was a renowned geologist and professor who testified to the fact that that mountainside has sulfite minerals, sulfite minerals that will cause sulfuric acid upon exposure to air and water. And that is finally starting to get some attention in the media, and I think it's finally been acknowledged by G-TAC officials and the president, Bill Williams, that there will be sulfites there. Their response has been, from what I've seen, that they expect to encounter very little sulfites. That may be true. The problem is what most people are not truly grasping-- and this is where the absence of science and real data is really perpetuating misinformation and half truths. The scale of the project that we're talking about here, that everyone's kind of gushing about, is so monstrous that even a half of 1% of sulfite mineral in that mountainside is going to be very dangerous. We're talking waste rock in the form of-- you know, estimates are-- when you look at the Tyler formation and the waste rock that's above that ore body, that ore body being tilted and going way down into the earth. We're looking at 434 million cubic yards of waste rock, billions and billions of tons of waste rock. When you start talking small percentages, you're still talking hundreds of millions of gallons of possible sulfuric acid production. 

Frederica Freyberg:

Do you favor Tim Cullen's bill any better?

Mike Wiggins:

I haven't had a chance to review Senator Cullen's bill because we were trying to get prepared for the legislative, you know, hearing that was held on Wednesday. That was scheduled on Friday. It was a holiday weekend.  Trying to prepare and get ready to travel down to Madison didn't leave much time to really get into Senator Cullen's proposal.  

Frederica Freyberg:

How would your treaty rights be able to stop a mine? 

Mike Wiggins:

Well, our treaty rights, you know, put forth some basic elements that our sovereign nation would need to be able to survive. You know, clean water, clean air, are two of those. But there's also habitat. I mean, we need our lands to be a certain way to ensure our way of life, how we approach our land culturally, emotionally and physically in terms of interdependence. Our people live very close, and take a lot of food and do a lot of harvesting on our waterways and in our lands within our boundaries. So when you look at treaty rights and what's taking place in terms of the obliteration of the headwaters of our sovereign nation, that's essentially a destruction of treaty resources through the destruction of habitat. And when we talk about habitat, you know, we're talking about surface water and the actual water that flows from those mountains directly into our home, but we're also talking about potential groundwater contamination. And groundwater contamination is addressed in this AB1/SB1 legislative piece. And part of it is allowing the mining company to be exempt from any accountability for groundwater contamination at depths deeper than 1,000 feet.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what–

Mike Wiggins:

Go ahead.

Frederica Freyberg:

I was going to ask you, when do you then put the power of the treaty in motion?  

Mike Wiggins:

Well, right now we're looking at all of the, you know, the different things that are around us in terms of resources that are able to help us protect ourselves. We're working with, you know, federal agencies, like the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, to fight through some of the misinformation that's being perpetuated right now surrounding this legislative piece. And to make sure that these federal agencies are aware of our situation, our unique needs as a sovereign nation and the notions of trust responsibility. Beyond that, you know, there's  off-reservation treaty rights that all Ojibwa tribes hold in common through the Voigt model code, or through the Voigt Decision, and that have manifested themselves in treaty management hand in hand with the state of Wisconsin for the last 25 years. When I think of consultation and treaty rights, you know, the state and the Ojibwa tribes up north, the 11 Ojibwa tribes that comprise, you know, the holders of these treaty rights, there's been a history of communication, of working together, and for the betterment of natural resources all around us, you know, for everybody. The legislators are bringing essentially a new process, one that seems to want to ignore the role of the Ojibwa tribes in natural resource management up in northern Wisconsin. That's ceded territory. That's under treaties. And we've always been willing to work with the state for the benefit of everyone in the state. 

Frederica Freyberg:

We need to leave it there. Chairman Wiggins, thank you very much.

Mike Wiggins:

Thank you.


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