Wisconsin Sulfide Mining Ban Eliminated
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed the “Mining for America” bill into law on December 11th in Rhinelander. The bill eliminates the “mining moratorium” on the issuance of permits for sulfide ore mining, without changing environmental standards. In the press release issued upon signing the bill, Governor Walker points out that, “Mining is a vital piece of Wisconsin’s history and is at the core of our cultural identity. With this new bill, we’re paying tribute to our state’s rich roots in the field and creating new family-supporting careers in the mining industry, all while protecting our abundant and valuable natural resources.”
The bill lifts Wisconsin’s 20 year ban on gold and silver mining. It reverses a vote of 20 years ago to impose the ban due to serious concerns about pollution. Supporters of the bill say it will revitalize the mining sector in northern Wisconsin and provide significant contributions to the Wisconsin economy.
Related January 16th Infosuperior post: Toronto Company Completes Land Exchange to Build Minnesota Mine
American Mining Association Weighs In
In the lead up to removal of the moratorium, the American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) issued the following September 7th statement to the Wisconsin Senate:
“Wisconsin is geologically rich in important critical and strategic metals minerals such as copper, zinc and lead,” said Laura Skaer. “Mining is an important economic contributor to local communities, states and nationally. Nationwide, metal mining has a direct and indirect contribution to gross domestic product of almost $155 billion. Average wages at hard-rock mines across the country are $85,000 plus benefits. These are true generational family wage jobs, especially for rural Wisconsin.”
The Mining Moratorium is unnecessary to protect Wisconsin waters and the environment, and it certainly does not help grow the Wisconsin economy. Wisconsin’s stringent water quality standards and reclamation requirements combined with modern mining technology and practices will protect the environment.
AEMA urges Wisconsin legislators to rescind the Moratorium and allow Northern Wisconsin to benefit from its mineral wealth by passing Senate Bill 395.”
Sulfide Mining 101
Sulfide mining refers to the mining of metals found in sulfide-bearing rock. Gold, copper, zinc, nickel and other metals are typically found bonded to sulfur. Sulfuric acid is created when sulfides are released through the mining process and exposed to air and water. The resulting runoff can enter nearby streams and waterways and since it readily mixes with water, can kill fish, insects and plants. Sulfuric acid is similar in composition to battery acid.
The National Wildlife Federation claims that sulfide mining, commonly known as hard-rock mining, is single largest source of toxic waste and one of the most destructive industries in the country. The federation contends that acid mine drainage kills fish and wildlife and poses serious health risks.
Senator Tiffany: “We do Not Reduce Our Environmental Standards Here in Wisconsin in Any Way.”
Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) co-authored the Wisconsin bill along with Representative Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield). As the bill was signed into law in Rhinelander, Tiffany contended that, “Mining was a very intrusive activity and you have to have high environmental standards. And if you read this bill that the governor is signing today, we do not reduce our environmental standards here in Wisconsin in any way. If any company wants to come here to Wisconsin, they’re going to have to live with our high environmental standards and it should be no other way.”
The 1998 ban required that sulfide mining applicants prove a similar mine had operated for 10 years without causing pollution. It also required applicants to prove such a mine had not caused pollution for a ten year period after closing. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has never made a determination that these standards were met.
Assembly Bill 499 – This bill eliminates the “mining moratorium” on the issuance of permits for the mining of sulfide ore. Additionally, the Department of Natural Resources must find that the technology to be used at a proposed mine is capable of resulting in compliance with air, groundwater, surface water, and solid/hazardous waste management laws. Authored by Senator Tom Tiffany (R—Hazelhurst) and Representative Rob Hutton (R—Brookfield), the bill passed the Senate on a vote of 19-14 and was concurred in the Assembly on vote of 53-38. It is Act 134.
Related: Polymet Proposes $544 Million to Cover Minnesota Mine’s Early Environmental Risks