Something doesn’t add up in the posture of Gogebic Taconite Mining (GTAC) on extracting iron ore in northwestern Wisconsin.
Just as Republicans were showing their intent to move on a streamlined permitting process in the legislature, GTAC closed its office in Hurley. Environmental groups were showing early opposition to mining of the Penokee Ridge between Mellen and Ashland, but that was to be expected.
GTAC looked to be making headway with argument that it would create several thousand jobs in a region badly in need of employment. On balance, things seemed to be going the company’s way.
As it went dark on its local presence, the company lobbed the ball back to the state, saying it would consider the project only after the permitting process were improved. State officials are now studying the permit processes in Minnesota and Michigan.
So the state is moving toward a permitting process with more certainty. It appears willing to do its part to allow for responsible mining, for operations that would be sound on an economic and environmental basis.
Against that sensible response by the state, GTAC takes itself out of the dialogue. That is compounded by its failure to put forward a business plan that gives specifics on how it will extract the taconite while protecting the environment. Only generalties have been offered by the company.
Will the company refill its open pit as it mines? It says it will minimize polluted out-flows, but how much actual contamination will it send down the tributaries of the Bad River? Will it have a closed loop liquids system? They should be able to model that out. What will the project look like when the mining is done? The company owes the state those kinds of answers.
There are examples of such responsible and transparent mining in the history of Wisconsin. Flambeau Mining Co, which ran a copper and nickel mine in Ladysmith in the 1990s, did an exemplary job of communicating and reclaiming its site. It is now a beautiful park. Will GTAC demonstrate such responsibility? Who knows?
The company is certainly justified in asking for a finite review process. Bureaucrats have no standing for killing a project with an interminable process for permitting.
Nor can the environmental groups have credibility if they oppose any and all mining. It is hypocritical to say: no mining here; do it in other countries. Unless they stop driving cars, they have to support extraction where it can be done responsibly.
That said, the company has an obligation to tell Wisconsin citizens how it intends to do business, with some degree of specificity.
From a hard-nosed business perspective, the pullback by GTAC looks to have done for other reasons than the permitting process. It looks to be more business dynamic than political dynamics. It looks like GTAC is keeping its options open without any real commitments – even a small office here.
In the context of a $1.5 billion construction project, closing a small office that was a vital part of its public relations process to save dough doesn’t figure