January 13, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: A bill so good – they don’t want you to talk about it.

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Senate Bill 1/ Assembly Bill 1, the mining bill, that has the honor to be numbered first in both the Senate and Assembly, had its first and likely only hearing last Wednesday, January 23.  Senate Bill 1/ Assembly Bill 1 has been hailed as job creating, environmental friendly, and good for businesses in Wisconsin.  Yet, not everyone believes that this bill will be good for our State.  Unfortunately, the dissenters that argue this bill may not actually improve the mining permit process had little opportunity to express their concerns at the bill’s only hearing. 

Against standard protocol, the Chairs of the Senate and Assembly mining committees put in place a series of rules that placed severe limits on the amount of time allotted to speakers, the number of questions that could be asked of each speaker, and even the types of questions that could be asked.  In a governmental system that based on transparency and public interaction, this process completely denied citizens vital information and input on this bill. 

Many who came to speak were not allowed to and many questions of the bill were left unanswered. Despite the many citizens who were not able to testify, the committee chairs have indicated that another hearing will not be scheduled.  Many citizens from the northern part of the state will not have an opportunity to discuss how a mine might affect their lives.  Without a doubt, the northern part of Wisconsin will be the most positively and negatively affected by the mine and to dissuade their voice in the process of designing this bill is unacceptable. 

Like others, I have concerns about whether this bill would adequately protect our natural resources, especially our most crucial resource: water.  Protecting environmental resources is not an issue simply for outdoorsmen and environmentalists, but could threaten the health and safety of citizens located downstream of the mine.  Some, including the Army Corp. of Engineers have even challenged whether this bill will actually speed up the mining permit process.  Unfortunately, the hearing on the mining bill did not answer these types of questions and concerns about this bill. 

With an issue as complex as mining reform, we should not expect that our first few proposals will be the ultimate solutions.  Senate Bill 1/ Assembly Bill 1 can be used as a platform on which improvements to the mining permit process can be made but the drafters must be willing to listen to the public and make changes to their bill.  It is not the intent of this legislature to pass mining reforms every session.  We want to pass a bill that successful implements an effective mining reform process.  This bill does not yet do that.  

I was and am still eager to create an effective mining permit process in Wisconsin.  Thus far, I am disappointed with the content of the first mining reform bill and even more unhappy with the lack of transparency and public input.  I sincerely hope that the legislature is dedicated to making mining work in Wisconsin even if that means admitting that the legislation we currently have is insufficient.  Mining reform is a non-partisan issue that both parties can agree upon but only if done the right way.  This hearing was a bad start but if we slow down, time remains to creating effective mining reform legislation.