For most people, the words, Wisconsin Badgers, conjure up thoughts of cardinal and white, or Camp Randall Stadium on a fall day. Badgers are associated with the University of Wisconsin; however, long before Ron Dayne made his mark on the state, a different type of badger left an indelible legacy in Wisconsin.
Before Wisconsin was officially a state, western Wisconsin miners burrowed into bluffs to stay warm during winter months. The miners and the mining industry became so associated with Wisconsin that the state became the Badger State, and the badger earned a place on the state flag and as the official state animal.
The early miners would barely recognize Wisconsin today. Instead of a hotbed of mining activity, Wisconsin is one of the world’s least hospitable places for mining. A 2011 study by the Fraser Institute asked mining industry companies to evaluate and rank 17 U.S. states, 13 Canadian provinces, and countries from every continent except Antarctica. The rating included regulations, regulatory duplication, taxation, infrastructure, political instability, labor issues, and security conditions affecting potential mining projects. Factoring in all the variables, one would assume Wisconsin would outpace developing and third world nations like Kazakhstan, Papua, New Guinea, and Zambia.
Wisconsin ranked 72 out of 79 jurisdictions in the survey. Kazakhstan, Papua, New Guinea, and Zambia all fared better than the Badger State. So too did Kyrgyzstan, Namibia, notoriously corrupt Russia, the 16 other states and 13 Canadian provinces. According to the Fraser Institute study, of the entire Western Hemisphere, only Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Guatemala have less friendly regulatory environments than Wisconsin.
To put it simply, Wisconsin’s mining laws are broken. Republicans made mining regulatory reform a priority at the start of the 2011 legislative session. After months of hard work, serious reform proposals are before the state legislature. The reforms bring certainty to the mining permitting process and encourage investment in the state. Rather than a possibly endless permit process, mining companies would know whether a project is approved within a timely fashion.
Wisconsin’s proud mining history is a thing of the past, and it does not have to remain. Northern Wisconsin, one of the most economically depressed areas of the entire state, sits on top of one of the richest veins of iron ore deposits in the country. A mine currently proposed for the area would create thousands of good paying jobs for generations. The economic benefits of the mine would be felt in southeastern Wisconsin as well, because mining equipment manufactures P&H and Bucyrus would grow to meet increased demand.
Unfortunately, the state legislature’s minority party touts environmental scarecrows to stir anxiety about the effects of the mine. Surely, the regulatory reform legislation that ultimately becomes law must, and will, include sufficient environmental protections and a reclamation plan.
One year ago, Republicans promised to revitalize the economy and get Wisconsinites back to work. Reforming the state’s mining regulations not only honors our rich history, it will put thousands of struggling citizens to work in well-paying, long-term jobs. Wisconsin should be a first-rate place for mining.