Mining Jobs in Wisconsin’s Future
Over the course of the past two and a half years, I have studied the issue of iron ore mining in the state of Wisconsin. I have done countless hours of research, spoke with experts, and even traveled 6 hours north to Iron County to talk to local residents and tour the proposed mine site.
Many understand our need for iron ore – primarily to make steel – and the need for good paying jobs in our state. Others have a concern that we cannot protect the environment and mine simultaneously. My goal was to take the politics out of mining and figure out if iron ore mining could be done responsibly.
The mining bill has passed both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature and will soon be signed by the Governor. However, that does not mean that Gogebic Taconite can begin to mine immediately. Three separate agencies oversee the permitting process. Those agencies are the Army Corp of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
It is important to note that two of the three agencies that will oversee the permitting process are federal agencies. During the permitting process Gogebic Taconite will have to demonstrate that they can mine without negatively impacting the environment. If they cannot successfully establish this throughout the two year permitting process, they will not, nor should they, receive the permit.
This bill also has several other protections in the place that I found to be of very high importance. Most notably, as part of the permitting process, Gogebic Taconite will have to work with the DNR to determine the reclamation cost of each phase of the mine. Before Gogebic Taconite will ever be allowed to mine, the company must bond for the cost of reclamation. This means that in a worst case scenario, if the mining company were to abandon the mine, Wisconsin taxpayers and the environment are both protected.
As a dairy farmer, I very much understand the need to protect our environment. I also understand our need for iron ore to build things like cars, machinery, bridges, and buildings. The reality is, as a society, whether we support mining in Wisconsin or not, we will continue to need iron. If we do not mine here, we will continue to import iron ore from foreign countries with little to no regulation. I find this to be both hypocritical and shortsighted. I feel much more comfortable knowing that when we mine here in Wisconsin that our environment is being safeguarded by three separate government agencies at both the state and federal level.
The iron ore deposit in northern Wisconsin represents a huge opportunity for both sustainable jobs and prosperity in an area of our state where they are desperately needed. I am convinced that we can both mine and protect our environment at the same time.