Ending the state’s “mining moratorium” was a top story for 2017. Wisconsin’s “prove it first” law on sulfide mines for metals like copper and gold was passed by the legislature 20 years ago with bipartisan support, including then-state Representative Scott Walker.
Times have changed. After the bill moved quickly through the legislative process, Governor Scott Walker signed it into law earlier this month. At a public hearing in Ladysmith, Democrats on the Assembly Labor Committee had concerns. “I see really important organizations that represent the diversity of our state, like our tribal leaders, not being engaged in the process,” said Representative David Bowen (D-Milwaukee).
Environmental groups contend sulfide mining poses risks to ground and surface waters. “The reason we’re so concerned is that according to the EPA, sulfide mining is the most toxic industry in America,” said Kerry Schuman, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters.
Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), said the bill’s authors have been up-front about the environmental impacts of mining. “We acknowledge that this is a very intrusive activity, and needs to be managed carefully. That’s why we do not diminish our environmental standards at all.”
Signing the bill into law in Rhinelander, Governor Walker was asked what’s changed, since he voted in favor of the moratorium. “Technology’s changed, and I think it’s much easier to be able to make sure that you have safe and environmentally sound mining, here in the state of Wisconsin.”
Mining proponents expect companies with an interest in looking for minerals to begin the process of prospecting in northern Wisconsin sometime fairly soon.