January 16, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Real Mining

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Making Mining Jobs Real

This week’s State of the State address by Governor Walker drew much theatrical attention and showmanship to his priority of to pass a mining bill quickly.  What it lacked was details about how the mining jobs he is promising will be made real.  Without specifics, we are simply creating nothing more than headlines, not real jobs.  Here are three specific tests the bill must pass to be a REAL job creating, bi-partisan, bill.

Wisconsin workers must be the beneficiaries of job creation.  The common practice used by mining companies to hire out-of-state labor should not be tolerated nor allowed in pursuit of legislation designed for those same mining companies.  Statutory language or firm public statements of the commitment to employ Wisconsinites for construction and operation of the mine is a necessity.  Wisconsin citizens will not and should not support the opening of mines in Wisconsin if the mine is to be operated by Texas workers that take their paychecks south to the Rio Grande.

Wisconsin must help train Wisconsin workers to fill these jobs.  The skills gap is a growing concern for industries and employees throughout the state.   That same skills gap exists in Wisconsin for mining related jobs.  The mining bill should and can contain meaningful investment into training programs that teach Wisconsinites the skills they will need to work in the mining industry.  Last session, the GOP included $1 million spread across the state to do such training.  This session, Governor Walker and both parties have said the skills gap must be closed.  The mining bill should include more investment towards training programs, especially in apprenticeship training which is an effective technique of using skilled laborers to teach the skills of their craft to new workers.  If we are serious about closing the skills gap, we should indicate that investment in the first big jobs bill – the mining bill.

Wisconsin must work with federal and tribal entities to make a mining law change that creates a Wisconsin mine, not lawsuits.  Wisconsin is not the only entity that is involved with the permit processing and operation of mines in Wisconsin, especially in region of the Penokee Hills range in northern Wisconsin.  Due to the precious natural resource called water, the Army Corps of Engineers is required to go through a permitting process just as is the state.  No Wisconsin mining bill can deny the participation of the Army Corp.  

But that is not the end of this test because the sovereign nation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of the Chippewa Indians rests in the watershed of the proposed mine in the north.  The water that may be affected flows through their tribal lands on the way to Lake Superior.  The tribes that will be affected by a proposed mine need to be involved in the planning and approval process or the operation of the mine will be vulnerable to extensive litigation. 

Collaboration with federal and tribal entities deters the potential for litigation.  Consultation goes back to the intent of the bill and whether or not we want to make the mining bill real or just a headline.  I fear too many in the Capitol want the headline. 

I want a mining bill that is feasible, that respects the concerns of those affected, that put Wisconsinites to work, and actually happens in my lifetime.  Wisconsin doe not need more work for lawyers and lobbyists.  Rather, we need more work for the people of this state.  The GOP agenda from last session has resulted in plenty of lawsuits.  We need a mining bill that works and it is real. 

To make it real, to make the jobs real, to make the training real, to make the mine real, the bill must pass these three tests.  If that means we take more time to pass the bill, so be it.  If that means we have hard discussions with tribes, local governments, and mining companies, so be it.  If that means we have serious work to do on adding funds for training and trade education, so be it.  Whatever it takes, let us do a mining bill that is real, not a headline.  We have had two years of headlines, now it’s time for real legislating and real results.