December 12, 2017
Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a controversial bill into law on Monday that ends the state’s sulfide mining moratorium at the behest of powerful business and rightwing ideological interests that have spent more than $14 million to help elect him.
The measure repeals a law approved in 1998 by both parties and a Republican governor that requires mining companies to identify other sulfide mines that operated for 10 years and that were closed for 10 years and did not pollute during the duration. This is called a “prove-it-first” clause. At the time, Walker was among the GOP Assembly lawmakers who approved the moratorium.
In addition to dumping the mining moratorium, the new law:
- Loosens state groundwater and wetland protections;
- Relaxes procedures for mining companies to take ground site samples;
- Speeds up the Department of Natural Resources’ procedures for reviewing and approving mining applications and permits;
- Limits the ways the state can require mining operations to fulfill their financial responsibilities for reclaiming a mining site.
Environmentalists are chiefly concerned about mining precious minerals, like gold and copper, in sulfide deposits. That’s because sulfides create sulfuric acid when they are exposed to oxygen and water, and those acidic materials can drain into waterways.
But the new law’s sponsors, Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, and Rep. Rob Hutton, of Brookfield, and other supporters claim technology has made sulfide mining safer and that mining would bring more jobs to northern Wisconsin.
Special interest support for the new law was led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group, and Americans for Prosperity, a dark money electioneering group created by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Both groups have been major players since 2010 on secret fundraising and spending to pay for their outside electioneering activities to support GOP and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices. WMC doled out an estimated $9.5 million to support Walker during his 2010 general, 2012 recall, and 2014 reelection campaigns. Americans for Prosperity spent an estimated $4.8 million to back Walker’s 2012 recall and 2014 reelections campaigns.