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Thursday, January 24, 2013

"It IS Sacred"

I sat through nearly nine of the twelve hours of testimony that was given yesterday to a subcommittee of Wisconsin State Legislators whose task is to pass mining legislation that has been written by, for the very first time in state history, the regulated industry. An entity that goes by the name of GTAC had a representative there to speak as well, but virtually nothing he had to say made any sense to those who know the history of mining in the state. I have participated in several rounds of public comments, working through the legislative process to help craft regulations and assisting in educating the public about the nature of trying to mine in sensitive areas and the headwaters of river systems that we all hold in common as citizens. What was just as stunning now as it was thirty years ago, when I began my own involvement in environmental issues, was the absolute disconnect between those who believe in their dominion over nature and those who realize that we are integral to the ecology of Mother Earth. The outright lies, about the nature of the geology, the proposed changes to wetlands protection, the air and water quality that mining would affect, the number of jobs that a mine would "create" and the impacts on local communities were bad enough. Serious questions arise about the validity of any position taken by the corporation, (GTAC) because they have already acted in ways that would normally be prosecuted.
It is an crime to tell someone that if they do what you want them to, something good will happen and if you do not do what they want, bad things will happen. When they ask for money, that is called extortion, organized crime is often prosecuted for engaging in this type of crime. Racketeering is enlisting enough people as to control a market. I see no reason why enlisting the government to help steal from the public should be any different from using any other group of organized criminals to do so. What will be stolen, in this case is two-fold. First off, by having a mining company re-write the laws, the company has already stolen our democratic process. The sham of only allowing twelve hours of testimony to be heard from the public, hundreds of miles from where the mine would operate, with only two business days warning has also stolen rights that belong to the public and have been well-established by time-honored practices that have served us well since Wisconsin has been organized as a state. The second thing that has been stolen from the people of Wisconsin are the laws that have sought to protect the environment from mining interests, who leave social distortion, cultural mayhem and environmental destruction in their wake. This assault on state law also renders useless, the hundreds of thousands of hours spent crafting the laws than now partially protect state resources like clean air and water.
I am writing in parlance that the average person might understand, but the deepest assault is a bit more esoteric. First, the history buffs and folks enamored by the "good old days" spoke about the need to recover the boom times that mining provided the north woods. What these people forget is that instead of prostrating themselves to set dynamite in warrens of tunnels, or shoveling the ore into carts, the way mining used to take place, modern mining allows a single guy in a truck to cart away more pulverized rock powder in a minute than a whole community used to be able to produce in a day. Forgetting the fact that the geology that led to mining certain parts of our state was the exact same geology that led to the end of mining, did not seem to be enough, the supporters also had to parrot back the same ignorant statements that they rest their arguments upon. One supporter hastened to say that the town of "Wakefield gets it's water from the (now-closed) Montreal mine". This may be true but has absolutely nothing to do with the proposed mine that lies under sulfide bearing rock that will be blasted to powder, creating acid mine drainage in the next watershed over.
The people who clung to the "jobs" issue failed to mention that the problems that they have always had with shrinking population is that the first extraction was the forest itself, then the mineral wealth under their feet. They do not understand that the low-grade ore that is left is just that. One person "in favor of the mine", bemoaned the "fact" that their children will all have to move away if they want to get jobs and another said that six homes on one lake alone had been foreclosed on and were now sitting empty. Hmmmm, sounds like a vacation retreat center about to happen, but that would require a bit of investment and commitment to finding creative ways of making a living. There are many flourishing vacation rental businesses across the north...One wondered if their children just wanted to get away from the land of not much to do. One fellow who, as I recall, was a school board chairman, said that if just six families would move into their school district it would help the school to hang on in spite of dwindling enrollment and plummeting state aid. Keep in mind that these same voices doubted the integrity of the science behind the opposition to the mine and the sentiment that most folks spoke out about that was we need to take our time and protect the environment, rather than bowing to corporate power and promises.
This is the second round for this law, even though it was reintroduced this session as AB 1 and SB 1, none of the prior testimony, which ran 348 against environmental destruction to 24 in favor of mine development, will be allowed to be considered in the new fight spear-headed by governor scott Walker, to reduce the effectiveness of Wisconsin state law.
Two particular interactions during the hearing yesterday were most telling, one was the question, late in the day by the committee chair. "Why is this issue more important in Ashland County than in Iron County?" Iron county is not even in the watershed that would be affected by acid mine drainage. 2/3 of the proposed mine and all of the acid mine drainage would be in Ashland County. To date, there has not been a single public hearing on this issue there. Secondly, and perhaps most sadly, was the representative who spoke against changing the current laws. You would think that someone who wants to protect the state would have a better grasp on the situation. They said that the wild rice which grows in the floodplain of the Bad River is "almost sacred" to native people. Luckily, there were folks close by who chimed in, "It IS Sacred!" Several times during the hearing, the relationship between the sanctity of the land and sacred rites and/or objects came out. Just the sheer amount of TNT that would be used to blast the rock to the consistency of talcum powder would unleash a toxic legacy that would last beyond seven generations. I am sorry if I misquote Mike Wiggins, but he said something like, Imagine wiping the Vatican from the face of the earth, that is what the headwaters of our reservation are to us.
Several times, it was brought to light that the rights of native populations were guaranteed by a government much older than that of the State of Wisconsin. The treaties entered into by their nations and the nation of the United States of America explicitly state that there is a responsibility of the federal government to assure protection of the resources upon which their culture, their nation, and their subsistence way of life depend. Because of these treaties, the relationship between the people and their land may not be taken for granted, cannot be infringed and certainly by this understanding, must not be ruined by releasing toxic substances into the air or water of one nation by negligence or design by the other. The air, the water, the earth, rock and the intact ecosystem upon which life thrives is sacred. This needs to be made clear to the temporary custodians of our state. Our interest is in protecting this land forever.

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