How far will legislators go to do the bidding of the mining industry?

By AL GEDICKS
Wisconsin Resource Protection Council (NFIC)

How far is Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) willing to go to do the bidding of the mining industry with his legislation to repeal Wisconsin’s “Prove It First” moratorium on sulfide mining?

Senator Tiffany made that clear to everyone who attended the public hearing during  September in Ladysmith, Wisconsin on SB 395, the so-called “Mining for America Act” when he broke all the rules for public hearings and common decency by launching a personal attack on me for an arrest record from 47 years ago. He launched his attack in the middle of my testimony in opposition to repealing the mining moratorium law, which was live streamed at this site which still has the original video of the testimony available. (See Water is Life Digital player below and click "Livestream" or event posts on right side)

Senator Tom Tiffany

Since when do legislators try to intimidate and publicly humiliate citizens who are invited to offer public testimony on proposed legislation?

The fact that I was the only citizen singled out for this outrageous treatment was not accidental. It is no secret that I have waged a 40 year fight to protect Wisconsin’s clean waters from the hreat of acid mine drainage posed by metallic sulfide mining. I am currently working with the Menominee Indian Tribe and grassroots citizen groups in opposing the Back Forty open pit sulfide mine next to the Menominee River on the Michigan-Wisconsin border. I have assisted both Native American and non-native communities in successfully resisting ecologically destructive mining projects at the Lynne project in Oneida County in 1993, at Crandon in Forest County in 2003, and at the Penokee Hills project in Iron and Ashland Counties in 2015. The same Native American and environmental coalition that mobilized against Exxon’s Crandon mine was largely responsible for the passage of the historic Prove It First Mining Moratorium Law in 1998.

Senator Tiffany claims that sulfide mining can be done safely and effectively and that the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith has demonstrated this.

However, in July 2012, the organization I represent, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, along with Laura Gauger were co-plaintiffs in the successful Clean Water Act lawsuit against the Flambeau Mining Company for pollution of a tributary of the Flambeau River. In 2012 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed this tributary at the Flambeau Mine site as “impaired waters” due to copper and zinc toxicity linked to the Flambeau mine operation.

As I told Senator Tiffany at the hearing, “If you are so desperate to defend a bill that has no scientific or factual credibility, you have to go to the depths of deviousness to bring up something that happened 40 years ago, under highly questionable circumstances, this is eloquent testimony to the bankruptcy of this entire proceeding.” If Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) had not intervened and asked Sen. Tiffany to stick to the legislation before the committee, Senator Tiffany would have turned the hearing into an inquisition. In the aftermath of this, concerned citizens who have called to complain about his behavior at the hearing have been told by Tiffany’s staff that I am a “domestic terrorist.”

In Latin America opponents of mining have been put on a death squad hit lists for opposing an ecologically destructive mining projects. According to Global Witness, a human rights organization, at least 200 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2016, the deadliest year on record.

In the U.S., I’m happy to say that is not the case. But mining opponents like Laura Gauger and I have been targeted by a full court press campaign of right-wing media outlets like Media Trackers (founded by a tea party leader) and the new pro-mining advocacy group, Natural Resource Development Association. And now this attack from Tiffany.

My arrest 47 years ago occurred in the context of my participation in the antiwar protests on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus against President Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in May 1970 and the murder of four unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

I was arrested because I was in the vicinity of an attempted arson attack against the T-16 building, a temporary tin structure that had served as a classroom for the ROTC program and had been scheduled for demolition by the university prior to the attack. I was mistaken for one of the fleeing suspects and presumed guilty by Judge William Buenzli at my initial arraignment when he told me that if he were in my shoes he would head straight to Canada.

To prevent that from happening he set an excessive bail amount of $10,500. In the six days after the start of the student strike and antiwar protest, there were 20 major firebombing attempts on buildings but I was the only one arrested during this time. I was offered a plea bargain in return for admitting criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor crime rather than a felony. I rejected the offer because I was not going to admit to a crime I didn’t commit. I was found guilty and served my sentence of 90 days in jail and three years probation. End of story.

Facts are stubborn things. Senator Tiffany and the pro-mining lobby cannot dispute the fact that as of the fall of 2016, copper levels in the Flambeau River tributary still exceed Wisconsin’s acute toxicity criterion set to protect fish, and Flambeau Mining Company has not secured a mine reclamation Certificate of Completion for this portion of the mine site due to the ongoing pollution.

Rather than admit that the Flambeau Mine does not prove that metallic sulfide mining can be done safely, Senator Tiffany and the mining industry have tried to divert public attention from the disastrous record of sulfide mining in polluting clean water wherever it operates by engaging in personal attacks on the two most prominent advocates who have relied upon facts, science and common sense to defend Wisconsin’s landmark Prove It First law and the right of communities to protect their clean water.

See Also: Yes Water Protectors, No Back Forty, No Acid Sulfide Mines.

See the Testimony of Al Gedicks at the Event Site Below (Click the LIVESTREAM Logo in lower right corner)


Al Gedicks is emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University
of Wisconsin-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.

 

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