Op Ed

Mining Hearing Gets Ugly

Senator and mining proponent uses personal attack as part of defense of bill.

By - Sep 21st, 2017 03:38 pm
Sand Mining. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Sand Mining. Photo is in the Public Domain.

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.

Wisconsin State Sen. Tom Tiffany.

Wisconsin State Sen. Tom Tiffany.

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.

I was arrested because I was in the vicinity of an attempted arson attack against the T-16 building, a temporary tin structure that had served as a classroom for the ROTC program and had been scheduled for demolition by the university prior to the attack. I was mistaken for one of the fleeing suspects and presumed guilty by Judge William Buenzli at my initial arraignment when he told me that if he were in my shoes he would head straight to Canada. To prevent that from happening he set an excessive bail amount of $10,500. In the six days after the start of the student strike and antiwar protest, there were 20 major firebombing attempts on buildings but I was the only one arrested during this time. I was offered a plea bargain in return for admitting criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor crime rather than a felony. I rejected the offer because I was not going to admit to a crime I didn’t commit. I was found guilty and served my sentence of 90 days in jail and three years probation. End of story.

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

Read more about Senate Bill 395 here

Categories: Environment, Op-Ed, Politics

17 thoughts on “Op Ed: Mining Hearing Gets Ugly”

  1. will says:

    Al, I’m sorry that this lying tiffany tried to bring up lies again about you and the mine. Heard Tiffany lie way to many times
    To get his way. He’s a sorry excuse for Democracy. Tiffany and the rest of the bought and paid for Wisconsin GOP. We will come together as a Democracy and win all battles for clean water and air. It’s our duty as Americans. Thanks for all your hardwork.

  2. Jason Troll says:

    Way to go Democrats? Just another example of your party righting off rural folks? North Eastern Wisconsin is rich in minerals and your side is back at it. Depriving Wisconsinites of good paying jobs.

  3. big thanks Al, for a lifetime of dedication to ‘protecting the Commons,’ and resisting poisonous profiteers such as Tiffany–
    here’s a video of mine on related matters, ‘The Real World’

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yeah seriously Democrats be more like Republicans and fly around on private jets while decrying wasteful government spending.

  5. Sally Draze says:

    The mine issue is not a Democrat or a republican issue, it’s that sulfide mining has never yet been safely done without serious polluting. The Menominee River is in the ten top endangered rivers list in the nation and the sulfide mining prospect is what put it there. It is up to us to do the right thing and protect our most valuable resource, water and save this river and take it off that list!

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    It’s not like people really need clean, safe water right Troll? Just buy bottled water. Problem solved. All those anti-job haters concerned about water safety. Pfft.

  7. What is the state of Mining vs.Clean Water in Wisconsin? ProCon Business William Lawrence, PM

  8. Gary says:

    Wisconsin loses out on being known as the next West Virginia USA in the eyes of the world if it doesn’t get digging soon – and we don’t have mountains! The educational component of a WV stereotype is already well underway — the Wisconsin GOP’$ doing some really memorable work!

  9. Dennis Grzezinski says:

    During the legislature’s hearings a few years ago on the Iron Mining bill that was bought and paid for by Gogebic Mining, there was an easy way to tell when Tiffany was lying — his lips were moving.

  10. John says:

    Hey Al did you really get arrested for protesting an unjust war that killed over 58,000 young American men? Over 30% being drafted against their will to fight a war that could not be won and had nothing to do with a threat on American. Can’t you sympathise with poor little 13 year old Tommy who at the same time was fighting his own battle against acne. Didn’t you know that you and the other Americans using their constitutional right to protest back then would be a scar forever etched on your reputation? What were you thinking? You should have instead been wearing a white polo shirt, carrying loaded weapons and marching thought streets protesting equal rights? Why isn’t he thanking you for helping him live a life without the fear of being forced to fight a political war? Isn’t he the real “domestic terrorist ,” being paid to actually attack Americans with fouled water, destroyed land and continuing the constant eradication of the Native American way of life? Ps..like my brother who also protested against the Vietnam War at Minnesota, you are an actual hero.

  11. Eric J says:

    Timothy McVeigh was a “domestic terrorist.”.

    Tom Tiffany oppose freedom of speech ??

  12. jack parker says:

    Tom Tiffany is a dimwit. He should know better. Give him a padded cell.

    Fact is that the Flambeau operation was not an environmental success.

    Contrary to what WDNR ruled – the cleanup is and always will be incomplete.

    The integrity of the “Hoover Dam” is suspect, and no test bores were made to investigate.

    We have no data to show where the toxic waters go in the westward direction, or downward.
    The liquids in the pit are extremely toxic. Kennecott and RT and the WDNR lied.

    If the DNR certificate of completion is not withdrawn the problems go to the landowners.

    Flambeau now stands as a permanent reminder that tighter controls on the mining industry are essential

    Cousin Jack

  13. Thomas says:

    Many years ago, the late great Pete Seeger sang something like this:

    “One blue sky above us, oceans lapping all our shores/one earth so green and round: who could ask for more?
    Because we love you, we’ll give it one more try/ to tell our rainbow race we’re too young to die.”

    Seeger helped restore life to the Hudson River, to Lake Erie, and to other precious places which were threatened by miners and manufacturers who were killing the waters and lands on which they thrived. A coalition of Native Americans, environmentalists, hunters and fishers prevented the poisoning of WI’s Wolf River in a victory that took nearly twenty years to achieve – keeping EXXon from mining at the headwaters of the Wolf. Walker wants to dismiss that valiant effort. We cannot let him get away with it if we believe that our planet is “too young to die.”

  14. Anna says:

    Why do the people in Tiffany’s district put him into office? They were Trump supporters too. Supposedly, they love the lakes and rivers but they’re willing to give them away to the highest bidder in order to obtain a few short term jobs. Not only that but the people up there will be left holding the bag after the water is polluted and the land is all dug up. My mother who lives in his district blames the retirees from Illinois who live up there. They will vote Republican no matter what and they don’t give a hoot about future generations.
    Yes, I know it’s locals too. They’d rather wreck the place than move to get a job.

    Previous generations of my family lived in Bessemer, Michigan. Take a look at how mining worked out there. The place is almost a ghost town.

    As a previous poster noted, it’s Tiffany who is the domestic terrorist. A terrorist has no regard for human life and how much life will there be without water?

    I fail to understand how a person can put money before anything else in life and even be willing to destroy the planet to get it.

  15. Scott Enk says:

    Wisconsin state Senator Tom Tiffany, stop making an ass of yourself and embarrassing Wisconsin with your antics, including those regarding Al Gedicks. Who do you “think” you are, boy — Joe McCarthy?

    Unlike you and McCarthy, Gedicks truly believes and lives what has *really* made America great. Like many other thinking Wisconsinites, this fifth-generation Wisconsinite and lifelong progressive activist is honored to stand before you and all Wisconsin in solidarity with activists like Gedicks — and be one of them.

    Senator Tiffany, I’d love to have a nice, public chat with you at a public hearing someday.

  16. Ulysses says:

    Rumor has it Tiffany is in the running to be the next WDNR Secretary. Him and Rep. Adam Jarchow, the guy who drafted a bill literally in a tavern, that would drastically reduce the power of DNR wardens to do their jobs. Can you believe that? Oh how Wisconsin has regressed from being the birthplace of the Conservation movement to a complete envionmental joke. Clean Water? Don’t need it! Healthy fish and wildlife populations? Who needs that! Gentlemen like Aldo Leopold and John Muir are rolling in their graves. The party of Teddy Roosevelt has betrayed their history.

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