Now 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.