March 2, 2015

Gogegic Taconite closing office in Hurley

A map showing the potential location of a mine. (Photo: DNR)

A map showing the potential location of a mine. (Photo: DNR)

A company exploring the possibility of creating an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills has announced plans to close down its office in the area, putting the future of the project in question.

In a statement released Friday, Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams said the company will “continue to investigate the possibility of pursuing a permit to mine the Upson site but cannot justify maintaining an office in Hurley without a prospect of immediate action.”

The project has seen a number of delays, including GTac’s decision to hold off on conducting field observations in the area. Williams also noted that the company’s “environmental investigation and analysis of the site has revealed wetland issues that make major continued investment unfeasible at this time.”

The decision comes after more than two years of controversy over the project, which saw Wisconsin lawmakers make changes to state law that were designed to give GTac more certainty about the permitting process. Tribal leaders and environmental groups vowed to fight the project, while federal officials have indicated their time tables for reviewing any mining permit would not be advanced just because of changes at the state level.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Vice President of Government Relations Scott Manley echoed concerns about potential EPA action derailing the mine. In a statement, Manley noted that “Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature took great steps toward improving Wisconsin’s regulatory process for iron mining; however, they can’t control the EPA’s outright hostility toward the industry.”

Manley said that WMC remains hopeful that a mine project will come to fruition in Iron County at some point in the future.

Internet users unlikely to notice impact of FCC rules

File photo: WRN

File photo: WRN

One expert says new rules on net neutrality will make sure content providers have equal access to the Internet, although regular customers are not likely to notice much of a difference in how they access information and entertainment online.

The Federal Communications Commission this week adopted standards that will treat the Internet like a public utility. UW-Madison telecommunications expert Barry Orton says the move keeps service providers from discriminating against certain content by creating “fast lanes” for those who pay to have their content reach customers faster. The rules are intended to prevent a scenario where start-ups and smaller companies have a difficult time being able to compete against more established businesses that can afford to pay for faster speeds.

For the most part, Orton says the FCC protected the status quo for much of the Internet currently operates. He says customers should see the same service they have always been getting, whether it’s “bad or good.”

Opponents argue the new rules will limit investment and innovation in Internet technologies. Legal challenges of the FCC’s decision are expected.


Wisconsin Senate passes right-to-work (VIDEO)

Senate chambers

Senate chambers

On a narrow 17-15 vote, the Wisconsin state Senate passed right-to-work legislation Wednesday night. “There will be no more important jobs bill in this chamber over the next two years, than the bill before us today,” said Majority Leader, Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) early in the debate, which lasted nearly eight hours.

Republicans rejected several amendments offered by minority Democrats, while Democrats implored Republicans to break from leadership and vote against the controversial measure, which has been fast-tracked at the Capitol. “Do what you know is right,” said Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). “If in the back rooms you can say you don’t like it, have the courage to stand out here.”

In the end, Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), a former union member from the Wausau area, was the only Republican to vote against the bill, saying in a statement that he was “not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.”

“Here we are. In the midst of a $2.2 billion deficit, here we are. A hail Mary to please outside special interest groups,” said Minority Leader, Senator Jennifer Shilling. “This bill is going to drive down family wages. Period.”

Democrats have argued this week that the bill is unneccessary, opposed by many businesses, and harmful to workers. Republicans argue right-to-work is about the freedom of individual workers to not join unions, and they claim it will make Wisconsin a more attractive destination for businesses. If passed and signed into law by Republican Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin would become the 25th right-to-work state. Walker, who initially called the issue “a distraction,” has said he’ll sign the bill.

Observers in the Senate galleries broke into applause for Democrats – and chanted and booed Republicans – numerous times during the debate. Several were escorted out by police officers. The remaining observers broke into a chorus of “shame” as the final vote was taken.

Fitzgerald spoke with reporters afterwards, and conceded that the benefits of right-to-work – which he earlier referred to as “a game changer” for Wisconsin, might not be readily discernible once the law takes effect.

The bill’s progress this week has been marked by protests by labor organizations and supporters, and more of that is expected when the state Assembly takes up right-to-work next week.

Wisconsin Senate takes up right-to-work

Senate chambers

Senate chambers

The Wisconsin state Senate has begun debate on right-to-work legislation. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) offered a primer on labor history in his opening remarks about the bill, SB-44.

Fitzgerald said the bill provides workplace freedom and makes Wisconsin more attractive to businesses. “There will be no more important jobs bill in this chamber over the next two years than the one that is before us today,” Fitzgerald said.

Democrats thus far have offered just two amendments to the controversial measure. “This bill is going to drive down family wages,” said Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse).

Wednesday’s debate followed a day long committee hearing on the bill on Tuesday, as Republican leaders have put the legislation on the fast track.

Right-to-work advances in abrupt vote (VIDEO)

Unions protest right-to-work legislation at the Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Unions protest right-to-work legislation at the Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

The Wisconsin state Senate will debate right-to-work legislation on Wednesday. Tuesday night, labor committee chair Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), abruptly called for a vote on the measure before the announced 7:00 cut off time for public comments, citing a “credible threat” that unions would try to disrupt the vote.

“That threat, we’ve talked to Capitol police, it’s credible, and we are not going to take a chance on a disruption,” Nass announced to a packed fourth floor hearing room, where dozens of people were still waiting to testify on the controversial, fast tracked legislation.

The claim drew an immediate response from Bruce Colburn with the state SEIU. “Why don’t you be honest about it? There is no threat,” Colburn said. Capitol police escorted out the Republicans on the committee, as the hearing room erupted with shouts of “shame on you” and “let us speak.”

Nass said that the threat was mentioned in an article published earlier in the day by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which stated that volunteers from SEIU and Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera would stand to object when the vote was called at 7:00. Nass called for the vote shortly before 6:30.

“This is an attack on the working people of Wisconsin,” said state Senator Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha), who along with Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) spoke to reporters as a large group of protesters gathered outside the Senate chambers after the vote.

“They don’t want to listen to people,” said Voces de la Frontrera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. “This is another pretext, because the 48 hour decision to fast track this is about them not wanting to listen to working people. There is no credible threat, and he’s a coward.”

“There was no threat. There was an insistence that they allow people to testify and they hear their testimony, but in a very peaceful way,” Colburn said. “We are very disappointed that they cut off debate tonight,” said Wisconsin AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale. “That is not the right thing to do. People travelled from across the state to speak out on this issue of why right-to-work is wrong for Wisconsin.”