By Kelly Lundeen
On November 8, Wisconsin lawmakers repealed the state’s “Prove-It-First” sulfide mining statute and sent it to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature. The law allowed for a mine to be licensed if its proponents could demonstrate that a similar mine had operated for 10 years and been closed for 10 years without causing acid mine drainage or polluting water. Since the requirement was never met, the statute has protected Wisconsin waters from sulfide mines since 1998. But beginning in 2013, Gov. Walker and Koch brothers-funded mining industry backers made repeal of the moratorium a top priority. Meanwhile, Republican Rep’s Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum, Rep. Cody Horlacher of Mukwonago, and Sen. Duey Stroebel of Saukville introduced bills to repeal state laws limiting air and water pollution not regulated under federal law.
A coalition of indigenous, environmental, and sports organizations mobilized to protect “Prove it first.” Over 20 years ago, many of the same groups had united around opposition to the metallic sulfide mining at Flambeau and Crandon, and saw the successful passage of the moratorium.
Back in the late ‘90s, both current Nukewatch staffers, John LaForge and I, were independently active in the anti-pollution struggle. For me, collecting postcards to support the Mining Moratorium and protesting the Crandon Mine was an early introduction to environmentalism as a geology student at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; and for John it meant organizing nonviolent action with Flambeau mine opponents from across the state.
Exxon’s Crandon mine proposal was stopped and the mine site sold to the Mole Lake Ojibway and the Forest County Potawatomi. The Flambeau Mine came and went, and the closed mine site has never been fully reclaimed after 20 years even though tailings were shipped off site. The Flambeau copper/gold operation was one of the major tools used by both sides of the moratorium repeal debate. Mining advocates claimed falsely that the site had been cleaned up, while opponents referred to the company’s own records to prove the site is polluting Stream 3, which feeds the Flambeau River. Flambeau mine site owners have never secured a mine reclamation “Certificate of Completion” due to the pollution—proven by 45 violations of water quality standards documented in a report by the Flambeau Mining Co. itself (a subsidiary of Rio Tinto). Unfortunately, industry-manufactured lies that “the Flambeau River remains fully protected” have dominated public discussion of the repeal.
At the state’s legislative hearings to repeal the moratorium, Nukewatch members and supporters joined dozens of others to testify. We gathered with our local network and used presentations, letters to the editor, and protest to educate the public and Assembly representatives.
“After hearing this,” said State Representative Romaine Quinn who attended a Nukewatch-organized presentation by Dr. Laura Gauger, “no, I don’t find myself supporting the mining bill.” However, Quinn voted for repeal.
Prior to the repeal bill’s passage, the author, Sen. “Toxic” Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said, “exploratory companies tell me they are back in play (in Wisconsin) if we change the law.” Tiffany predicted that the bill could prompt companies to start early exploration work for copper, zinc, gold and silver as early as 2018.
—Dr. Robert E. Moran, “Summary: Flambeau Mine: Water Contamination and Selective ‘Alternative Facts,’” April 2017; Ecowatch, Jan. 4, 2013