Collaborative EMS could help mining permit

williams-avoids-questions-e1361149328189Now that Wisconsin has a new law on the books to allow quicker permitting for a ferrous mine in the Penokee Range, the mining company needs to assess how it approaches the permitting process.

Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), owned by the larger mining outfit, Cline Resource and Development Group, can view the regulatory bodies, including the Wisconsin DNR, as adversaries and offer the minimum of environmental practices. If they do so, they will encounter a broad base of continuing opposition.

Or, GTAC President Bill Williams can mount a public relations campaign based on collaboration with the regulatory authorities that results in best practices for open pit mining.
GTAC has been guarded to say the least on its EMS – Environmental Management System, but it must have a good idea on how it intends to deal with the over-burden, the tailings and the run-off waters. It will need an EMS that includes such controls to win a permit to operate.

There’s no way some of the environmental groups or the Bad River Tribe will ever go along with any plan for the four-mile, 1000 foot deep gash in the Penokee topography – even as they use metal in every part of their lives. (“Mine any place else, but not in my backyard.”)

In fairness, the tribe’s legitimate concern is polluted runoff into the Bad River watershed, a 1,061 square mile area. The Bad River Sloughs were designated a wetland of international importance in 2012. The river is an aesthetic and economic resource for the reservation. Can the mining company guarantee clean runoff?

People in the middle of the “to mine or not to mine” debate, those who understand the need for balance between economic necessities and environmental protection, could be swayed toward issuance of a permit if there was evidence by GTAC of good stewardship and a commitment to comply with standards.

There is no getting around the reality that there is going to be a huge impact from the open pit mine on the natural surroundings. But can the damage be contained through a well-planned and executed EMS – if the regulators and company work together to make it happen?

There are always innovative ways to solve problems when the various players use a collaborative versus adversarial model.

Lest you think that such collaborative, innovative solutions are pie-in-the-sky idealism, let me commend to you:

• The corporate dairy farming industry is Wisconsin that worked out a creative manure siting compromise.

• The Wisconsin scrap metal industry that has a both-sides-win compact with the DNR.

• The oil industry in Illinois, which cut a collaborative regulatory agreement with regulators and environmentalists over the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

• My company, Serigraph, which has a Green Tier II contract with the DNR, under which we agreed to ambitious green goals in return for less micro-regulation.

Could a healthy negotiating process happen?

The GTAC track record to date has been hardball politics. So don’t get your hopes up for a more enlightened approach.

But if Wiiliams wants to avoid a tangle of suits and regulatory hurdles, he might be better off to hire a public relations firm instead of a more expensive law firms.

Of course, good PR has to flow from best practices and transparency.

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  • Old Baldy


    Probably a year ago I responded to one of your blogs regarding the mine with the same recommendation; that Gtac and republican politicians went about this all wrong. Glad to see you bought in, but give a little credit where due.

    What frustrates me and others with experience and expertise in environmental regulation, permitting and public relations is how G-tac and the politicians went out of their way to alienate other legitimate stakeholders and potential partners throughout the process. Willfully ignoring the tribe and federal regulators will add untold time and expense, and will not add any “certainty” to permitting success. Once the dust clears I will not doubt use this fiasco as a case study in how not to get a project started on time.

    A forecast: No mine will be built AT THIS SITE in the next 10 years. But you can bet other more savvy operators will be looking at other deposits in the state and we may yet have a mining boom.

    Old Baldy

  • Wisconsinite

    Your glib “mine anywhere but here” cheap shot is truly oblivious to the nature of this particular mine. It is more like “mine for iron anywhere that is not a ridge sitting at the base of a huge wetlands complex that drain directly into the greatest freshwater source on earth” For example, Australian iron mining takes place in arid desert conditions without a drop of water in sight. I guarantee you that such mining produces a fraction of the poisonous runoff that the Penokee mine will. From a pollution standpoint, the Penokee ridge is simply the worst possible place to mine for iron on this planet. All the good engineering in the world cannot mitigate this fact. The simple fact is that the mine cannot occur without massive and egregious damage to the environment and that’s why Wisconsins laws had to be destroyed first.

    • JohnTorinus

      You raise a good point.

  • tjmaclay

    The billionaire Chris Cline of Palm Beach has a yacht available for rent. The name on the transom reads ‘Mine Games’. The Republican party in this state has been completely prostituted with this legislation. How much was Alberta Darling paid off?

    • JohnTorinus

      Sen. Darling doesn’t need the money.

  • Tod Maclay

    apparently money has no reason. Mr. Torinus… Yu got enough. Alberta does So do I. But there is always more to have…why ravage the Penokees on the name of job creation?

    Tracking pro-mining cash gets dicey

    Posted on February 06, 2013 by Bill Lueders – 0 Comments

    By Bill Lueders
    Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

    Bill Lueders, Money and Politics Project director

    About 12 hours into the Jan. 23 state legislative hearing on a proposed bill to revamp the state’s metallic mining laws, a citizen who’d waited all day gave some unwelcome testimony.

    “Where did this bill come from?” asked Victoria McMurray, rhetorically. “Big business is taking over our government by making campaign contributions and the legislative recipients are responding by allowing laws to pass that hurt our state and enrich donors.”

    McMurray began listing donation totals to legislators from pro-mining interests, as culled from the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s contribution database. State Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, interrupted to say, “You need to write a letter to the editor.” Then, after McMurray finished and one other speaker was heard, he gaveled the hearing to a close, with dozens of people still waiting.

    The Democracy Campaign subsequently reported that mining bill proponents have given more than $15 million since 2010 to Scott Walker, who was elected governor that year, and to current members of the state Legislature. Meanwhile, only about $25,000 has flowed from environmental groups registered against the bill.

    Here’s how the Democracy Campaign phrased it: “Walker, who has campaigned around the state to gin up support for changing rules to attract mining projects, received $11.34 million.” This compared to just $650 to Walker from environmental groups opposed to the bill.

    Cullen Werwie, the governor’s press secretary, declined to comment on the report, saying only: “Gov. Walker supports reforming the mining process to allow for safe and environmentally sound mining in Wisconsin, which will create thousands of new private sector jobs.”

    Yet the methodology used to produce such tallies is open to question.

    The Democracy Campaign’s analysis includes contributions from the political action committees of mining bill backers — including trade groups for construction, banking and finance, road builders, restaurants and taverns — and well as from individuals connected to these groups.

    If Acme Corp. belongs to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a lobby group that backs the bill, then the $200 that Acme employee Joe Blough gave to state Sen. Wile E. Coyote would count as a pro-mining contribution — even if Blough opposes the mining bill, and only gave because Coyote is a loyal Acme customer.

    Mike McCabe, the Democracy Campaign’s executive director, calls the analysis “as surgical as the data allow us to be.” Donors don’t have to say why they give, but they are supposed to say where they work, for contributions of more than $100. That’s a useful tool, in an inexact science.

    A few years back, for example, a state senator objected to a donation from his mother being tallied as special interest cash, because of where she worked. Says McCabe, “I’d be the first to acknowledge that she may have had other reasons for contributing.”

    The Democracy Campaign lists Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, as getting $467,000 from mining bill proponents, more than any other lawmaker. The Democrat with the highest listed take is state Rep. Sandy Pasch, of Shorewood, with $73,000.

    Darling, vice-chair of the Senate committee that oversees mining, backed a similar mining bill introduced last session. Pasch voted against it and rips the current bill as coming from “politically connected mining interests.” Both lawmakers, McCabe says, have high receipts due to their hotly contested 2011 state Senate recall race — against each other.

    But the Democracy Campaign uses the same system as such respected national money trackers as the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics. McCabe says his group may be more selective, only counting contributions from interest group subcategories like “mining,” not broad categories like “natural resources.”

    Moreover, McCabe notes, interest groups cast the same wide net when testifying on proposed legislation: They purport to speak for their members, and all those their members employ or represent.

    And, just maybe, laying claim to all that backing makes it easier to be heard.

    • JohnTorinus

      How much did GTAC itself donate? The majority of the direct profits go there.

  • tjmaclay
  • John, I invite you to come North and visit the proposed site of GTAC’s mine. Perhaps then you will understand why it just can’t happen here.

    • JohnTorinus

      I’ll take you up on that next time Kine and I come to our cabin in Cable, not too far from the proposed mine.