Mining debate re-ignited at the Capitol

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Premiere Date: 
December 6, 2012

Mining debate re-ignited at the Capitol

Shawn Johnson and Danielle Kaeding provide an update on the battle over mining regulations

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg: Legislators and tribal members drilled back into the mining issue this week. A senate committee met Thursday at the State Capitol to look over a plan to revise state mining regulations. Thursday night a group of tribal officials, activists and environmentalist live streamed a meeting of their own on the topic. Danielle Kaeding of Northland College radio, WRNC, covered the tribal event. She joins us from Ashland. Wisconsin Public Radio’s Shawn Johnson sat in on the senate mining meeting and he is at the State Capitol. Thanks to both of you for being here. Shawn Johnson: Thank you. Danielle Kaeding: Thank you. Frederica Freyberg: First to you, Shawn. Obviously, iron ore mining up north is front and center on the docket right now. You were at that meeting chaired by Senator Cullen. What is new there? Shawn Johnson: Well, basically what's new there is that this committee that is chaired by Senator Cullen, a Democrat, started meeting after Democrats took power in this latest round of senate recalls, but before the November elections, when Republicans won the seats they need to go back into power. Senator Cullen's committee came up with the list of recommendations. And there are really a few big differences between the mining bill that they're talking about advancing, and the one that Republicans passed out of the assembly last year. When it comes down to time lines, which is where a lot of the discussion was on mining last year, Senator Cullen's bill calls for a two-year permitting process, with a chance for mining companies or for the DNR to take a pause if there's some information that they want to correct or they feel they need more time for. The assembly Republican version had just a one-year time-line with no pauses. Senator Cullen's version also has a contested case hearing. That was not in the assembly Republican version. And so, you know, those are some of the big differences between the bills that you saw presented. Frederica Freyberg: And I want to get to Danielle now up in Ashland. Again, we said that you attended this meeting hosted by Indian Country TV to discuss mining, and Bad River chair Mike Wiggins was there. Let's take a moment now to listen to some of what he said. Mike Wiggins: We're not talking about permitting some bulldozing for a new softball field. We're talking about catastrophic, massive destruction, violence with toxic outcomes. And we should be down in Madison just grabbing people by the tie, saying no. Frederica Freyberg: So, Danielle, it doesn't sound like there's much softening on the mining issue on the tribe's part. Danielle Kaeding: No. And I think that has to do mostly, in part, with how they feel that they haven't received any trust or recognition from the state level, that they haven't been as big of a part of the conversation that's taking place down in Madison, with any possibility of revising mining legislation and how that may impact treaty rights as it pertains to them. You know, I talked with Mike Wiggins after the meeting last night, and he said that they would welcome a discussion on development if it meant that it wasn't going to degrade their water quality. Anything other than that– Frederica Freyberg: Well, let me ask this. Does the tribe favor the Cullen version any better than the assembly version? Danielle Kaeding: I don't think that they have a stance on the legislation as it stands right now. I think they're very concerned about how it impacts the environment and how it will impact the surrounding area into the future. They talked about how they think in terms of responsibility and leaving something behind for generations to come. And if there is a bill in place that would somehow take away from what exists at this point in time, I don't think that they're in favor of that. They want to see the place that they live in preserved and their way of life preserved. Frederica Freyberg: Shawn, back to you. Isn't it the assembly version, the version of the mining bill that the majority leadership wants passed? Shawn Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. And the thing is, I mean, this is sort of an odd committee, because, you know, we know there's going to be a Republican majority coming into Madison here in, you know, about a month. But this is a committee that's chaired by Democrats. And so, you know, traditionally, if you look at how these study committee goes, when there's a change of power, they get ignored. But Senator Tim Cullen, the Democrat, also Republican senator Dale Schultz, who is on board with this, are hoping that the work product they came out with here and the findings and the lengthy committee hearings that they had, will sort of speak for themselves and that they'll be able to get another like-minded Republican to go along with them in the senate and maybe steer this discussion. Frederica Freyberg: Well, I know this is kind of a tough question, but what's the likelihood of that, finding a like-minded senator to go along? Shawn Johnson: You know, historically, not good. And you heard some members of the committee say yesterday that they don't hold out a lot of hope. I'm not saying all the members said that, but Jim Holperin, a retiring Democratic senator said he's not too optimistic. He says he thinks this will break down into partisan bickering and there won't be a mine built in Wisconsin for 12 years, because everybody will be at each other's throats. Frederica Freyberg: Danielle, it's interesting because clearly there's all of this going on at the State Capitol and continuing opposition and concerns up north at the tribal level. It's almost like this is on two separate tracks. Is there any sense there in the north that there's compromise to be had between the Bad River and state legislators? Danielle Kaeding: As far as the Bad River Band is concerned and working with lawmakers, when I talked to Mike Wiggins last night, he said that he would like to see the governor and the federal government do the right thing. And the right thing, he said, was to make certain that the Bad River Watershed and the Penokee Mountains remained unminable. Frederica Freyberg: Well, so I guess there's no compromise there. Shawn, do you know anything about the ability of the Bad River Tribe to shut this down, potentially, by using some kind of EPA rule or the courts? Shawn Johnson: They can't do it at the state level, but they have tremendous power at the federal level, which is spelled out in, you know, in treaty rights, which they say they are really-- you know, the bedrock of law in this country. So, yeah, if they're not happy with the way things go, or if the mining law or a mining permit just demonstrably goes against their treaty rights, they can block it. This committee, actually, in one of the provisions that they're going to recommend that's pushed by Senator Schultz, they actually spell out that the state will work with the tribe, that they'll consult with the tribes. But, you know, whether that's enough if a project-- if the tribe feels like the project is going to threaten their livelihood, you know, remains to be seen. Frederica Freyberg: All right. Shawn Johnson at the Capitol in Madison and Danielle Kaeding at Northland College in Ashland. Thank you very much. Shawn Johnson: Thank you. Danielle Kaeding: Thank you.

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