Mining Hearing Gets Ugly
Senator and mining proponent uses personal attack as part of defense of bill.
How far is Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) willing to go to do the bidding of the mining industry with his legislation to repeal Wisconsin’s “Prove It First” moratorium on sulfide mining? Senator Tiffany made that clear to everyone who attended the public hearing on September 7 in Ladysmith, Wisconsin on SB 395, the so-called “Mining for America Act” when he broke all the rules for public hearings and common decency by launching a personal attack on me for an arrest record from 47 years ago. He launched his attack in the middle of my testimony in opposition to repealing the mining moratorium law, which was live streamed. Since when do legislators try to intimidate and publicly humiliate citizens who are invited to offer public testimony on proposed legislation?
The fact that I was the only citizen singled out for this outrageous treatment was not accidental. It is no secret that I have waged a 40 year fight to protect Wisconsin’s clean waters from the threat of acid mine drainage posed by metallic sulfide mining. I am currently working with the Menominee Indian Tribe and grassroots citizen groups in opposing the Back Forty open pit sulfide mine next to the Menominee River on the Michigan-Wisconsin border. I have assisted both Native American and non-native communities in successfully resisting ecologically destructive mining projects at the Lynne project in Oneida County in 1993, at Crandon in Forest County in 2003, and at the Penokee Hills project in Iron and Ashland Counties in 2015. The same Native American and environmental coalition that mobilized against Exxon’s Crandon mine was largely responsible for the passage of the historic Prove It First Mining Moratorium Law in 1998.
Senator Tiffany claims that sulfide mining can be done safely and effectively and that the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith has demonstrated this. However, in July 2012, the organization I represent, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, along with Laura Gauger were co- plaintiffs in the successful Clean Water Act lawsuit against the Flambeau Mining Company for pollution of a tributary of the Flambeau River. In 2012 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed this tributary at the Flambeau Mine site as “impaired waters” due to copper and zinc toxicity linked to the Flambeau mine operation.
As I told Senator Tiffany at the hearing, “If you are so desperate to defend a bill that has no scientific or factual credibility, you have to go to the depths of deviousness to bring up something that happened 40 years ago, under highly questionable circumstances, this is eloquent testimony to the bankruptcy of this entire proceeding.” If Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) had not intervened and asked Sen. Tiffany to stick to the legislation before the committee, Senator Tiffany would have turned the hearing into an inquisition. In the aftermath of this, concerned citizens who have called to complain about his behavior at the hearing have been told by Tiffany’s staff that I am a “domestic terrorist.”
In Latin America opponents of mining have been put on a death squad hit lists for opposing an ecologically destructive mining projects. According to Global Witness, a human rights organization, at least 200 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2016, the deadliest year on record.
In the U.S., I’m happy to say that is not the case. But mining opponents like Laura Gauger and I have been targeted by a full court press campaign of right-wing media outlets like Media Trackers (founded by a tea party leader) and the new pro-mining advocacy group, Natural Resource Development Association. And now this attack from Tiffany.
My arrest 47 years ago occurred in the context of my participation in the antiwar protests on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus against President Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in May 1970 and the murder of four unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.
Facts are stubborn things. Senator Tiffany and the pro-mining lobby cannot dispute the fact that as of the fall of 2016, copper levels in the Flambeau River tributary still exceed Wisconsin’s acute toxicity criterion set to protect fish, and Flambeau Mining Company has not secured a mine reclamation Certificate of Completion for this portion of the mine site due to the ongoing pollution.
Rather than admit that the Flambeau Mine does not prove that metallic sulfide mining can be done safely, Senator Tiffany and the mining industry have tried to divert public attention from the disastrous record of sulfide mining in polluting clean water wherever it operates by engaging in personal attacks on the two most prominent advocates who have relied upon facts, science and common sense to defend Wisconsin’s landmark Prove It First law and the right of communities to protect their clean water.
Al Gedicks is emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.
More about the Senate Bill 395
- Sportsmen and Elected Leaders Speak Out Against Sulfide Mining Bill - Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters - Oct 13th, 2017
- Op Ed: What Happened to Wisconsin? - State Sen. Mark Miller - Oct 12th, 2017
- Mining Bill is a Disaster that No Amendment Can Fix - Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters - Oct 3rd, 2017
- Op Ed: Flambeau Mine Was Bad For State - Raj Shukla - Sep 23rd, 2017
- Op Ed: Mining Hearing Gets Ugly - Al Gedicks - Sep 21st, 2017
- Corporate Mining Handout Overwhelmingly Unpopular - Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters - Sep 21st, 2017