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March 28, 2015

Wisconsin’s proposed Gogebic mine officially gone for good

Map of potential mine site (Photo: DNR)

Map of potential mine site (Photo: DNR)

A huge – and hugely controversial – open-pit iron mine proposed for northern Wisconsin is officially not happening. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said Friday that Gogebic Taconite has notified the agency that it is withdrawing its pre-application notice related to the proposed iron mine in the ecologically sensitive Penokee Hills in Ashland and Iron Counties.

The notification follows the February closing of the company’s office in Hurley. GTAC President Bill Williams noted at that time that their “environmental investigation and analysis of the site has revealed wetland issues that make major continued investment unfeasible at this time.”

GTAC’s departure comes after more than two years of controversy surrounding the mine proposal. Republican legislators in Madison enacted changes to state law which were carefully crafted to provide GTAC with greater certainty about the DNR permitting process. Tribal leaders and environmental groups said the massive mine would prove environmentally disastrous for the Bad River Watershed, and vowed to fight the project. Federal officials had also indicated that their time tables for reviewing any mining permit would not be advanced just because of changes at the state level.

The DNR will continue to work with the company to complete necessary work on the site to ensure it is properly maintained and environmentally stable. Land adjacent to the mine site will also be reopened to the public.

Baldwin co-sponsors bill to increase oil train safety

Federal legislation would set tougher safety standards for freight trains carrying crude oil. It’s a concern, given the heavy volume of such traffic rolling through Wisconsin each week. Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin is one of four U.S. Senators proposing the bill, which would halt the use of more than 100,000 older tanker cars not designed to carry volatile crude from fields in North Dakota and Montana. The measure would also require federal authorities to write rules to reduce the volatility of the oil.

At a Washington D.C. press conference, Baldwin said it’s critical that appropriate safety measures are in place to reduce the risk of deadly accidents. A Burlington Northern train which was involved in a fiery derailment in Illinois earlier this month had passed through Wisconsin just a short time before.

Report shows Wisconsin private sector job growth at 38th in nation

New numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show Wisconsin losing ground nationally when it comes to job creation.

Wisconsin had the 38th slowest private sector job growth in the nation, for the year ending in September…falling from 31st in a similar report released three months ago. The BLS figures show Wisconsin created about 27,500 jobs during the 12 month period, which was an increase of about 1.1 percent. During that same time frame, the national increase was 2.3 percent.

Democrats were quick to criticize the numbers as a sign that the national economic recovery is passing Wisconsin by. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) said that “Instead of investing in a pro-growth agenda to expand economic opportunities and create jobs, Republicans have dug a massive $2.2 billion budget hole and failed to keep their promises to Wisconsin families,” while Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said the GOP should stop “wasting time on partisan power grabs and divisive social issues” and agree to work with Democrats on policies that will put Wisconsin back on the right track.

Governor Scott Walker’s administration was quick to point out that more recent jobs numbers show Wisconsin’s unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent in February, its lowest level since July of 2008.

In a statement, Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said “Wisconsin’s economy is growing and we are moving in the right direction. When Governor Walker took office, unemployment was at 8.1 percent, it’s now down to 4.8 percent; the lowest since July 2008 and below the national rate of 5.5 percent. Governor Walker’s policies are working and our unemployment rate is down for the right reasons. In February, we saw the best monthly gain in more than a decade with 13,600 jobs created. Also, Wisconsin’s employment reached a new record high with 2,969,400 employed workers. Our total private jobs exceed the pre-recession high by 11,000, according to the CES numbers.”

Those figures are based on monthly jobs data the state reports to the federal government, which tend to fluctuate. Walker repeatedly saidon the campaign trail in 2014 that the long term BLS numbers are more accurate, since the are based on a survey of most Wisconsin employers.

DWD: numbers show Wisconsin unemployment below 5%

The state Department of Workforce Development on Thursday released U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revisions for January and preliminary estimates for February, covering unemployment and employment statistics for the state of Wisconsin.

According to DWD, the BLS estimates show:

Place of residence data: A preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.8 percent in February, down from 5.0% in January. The 4.8 percent rate is the state’s lowest rate since July 2008 and is lower than the national unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in February. Wisconsin’s labor force included 2,969,400 employed workers, an all-time high.

Place of work data: The state added a statistically significant 13,600 private sector jobs from January to February. Other statistically significant changes include a month-over-month job gain in professional and business services. The numbers also show an upward revision in January’s month-over-month private sector job gain by 4,200.

“Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dropped below 5.0% percent for the first time since 2008 while employment reached an all-time high,” DWD Secretary Reggie Newson said. “The state’s preliminary addition of 13,600 private sector jobs over the month is the best one-month jump since September 2003 according to the benchmarked series. And, with an upward revision of January’s month-over-month gain by 4,200 jobs, the monthly data series suggests we are off to a strong economic start in 2015.”

Wisconsin Senate approves prohibitions on plastic microbeads

Senate chamber

Senate chamber

The Wisconsin state Senate has passed a bill which places restrictions on the manufacture and sale of  personal care products containing plastic mircobeads. The tiny plastic beads can wreak havoc in the environment, something that was discovered by researchers, including Dr. Lorena  Rios-Mendoza at UW Superior.

“I think this bill shows the importance of not only science, but basic research,” said Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), the bill’s author. “Until the technology exists to stop our water treatment plants from allowing these through the filters, we’ve got to keep these out of the environment. So this is a step in that direction.”

“Eleven thousand pounds a year of this plastic goes into Lake Michigan,” said Senator Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha). “The little beads congeal, the fish eat the little beads, and we eat the fish.”

If passed by the Assembly and signed into law, the bill would prohibit manufacture of products containing the beads by 2018, and sale of the products by 2019. New York and Illinois already have bans in place.