November 3, 2017
Backed by powerful business and rightwing ideological interests, the state Assembly approved a bill Thursday to end Wisconsin’s ban on mining gold, silver, copper and other precious metals, despite longtime concerns about water pollution.
The measure, Assembly Bill 499, now goes to the Senate, which Republicans control 20-13. The bill would ditch current 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.
Then, as now, environmentalist and others were chiefly concerned about mining minerals in sulfide deposits because acidic materials can drain into waterways.
The measure’s sponsors, Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, and Rep. Rob Hutton, of Brookfield, and other supporters say technology has made sulfide mining safer and that mining would bring more jobs to northern Wisconsin. The Assembly amended the bill to prevent mining at a site while its permits were being challenged and to help prevent mining companies from using loopholes to avoid paying taxes.
The bill was backed 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 spent more than $24 million combined since 2010 to back Republican and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices.