Tag Archives: mining company

Environmentalists seek permanent protection of Penokee

UPDATED: The company that sought to open a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin is instead packing up its office. The Gogebic Taconite mining company announced the closure of its office in Hurley and said further investment in the venture is unfeasible.

The decision, announced in a press statement by Gogebic president Bill Williams, brings to a halt the effort to transform land in the Penokee Hills in the Iron/Ashland county border into an iron mine. The proposal, brought forward in 2011 and advanced by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators, drew strong opposition from environmentalists and Native American tribal members in the region. The development was planned for the Bad River Watershed, where many streams flow to Lake Superior and through the wild rice beds of the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation.

Williams, in the press statement, said Florida-based Gogebic would continue to investigate the possibility of pursuing the mine but it couldn’t justify the office expense: “Our extensive environmental investigation and analysis of the site has revealed wetland issues that make major continued investment unfeasible at this time.”

“It took Gogebic Taconite roughly four years to determine what has been obvious to local Wisconsin citizens and the Bad River Tribe from day one, when a giant open pit iron mine was proposed for the pristine Bad River Watershed: mining in this area is not feasible,” said Shahla Werner, director of the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter in Wisconsin. 

In 2013, with Walker backing the project, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a bill easing environmental regulations to clear the way for the mine. The votes followed Gogebic’s $700,000 investment in the Republican Party of Wisconsin during the recall elections.

But Gogebic still faced obstacles, with regulatory reviews, tribal resistance, environmental opposition and local government concerns.

At one point, Gogebic hired an armed paramilitary force to guard the proposed mining area after Native American tribal leaders established an “education center” nearby.

But the strong opposition continued.

Last summer, the Wisconsin Federation of Tribes asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop the mine under the Clean Water Act. The same approach effectively halted the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska.

Environmental advocates refrained from declaring victory, but they cheered the latest development.

“From the first rumor of this mining company coming into Wisconsin’s Northwoods five years ago, there was no debating the significant risk to natural resources the mine posed,” stated the Clean Wisconsin advocacy group. “The value of the Northwood’s wetlands, trout streams, lakes, wild rice beds, majestic forests, clean drinking water and the beauty of Lake Superior is immeasurable, and it would have been jeopardized by Gogebic Taconite’s plans for an open-pit iron mine. We hope lessons will be learned from this experience, and that Wisconsin won’t soon go down the path again of weakening environmental laws for the risky and shortsighted plans of a single company.”

In a statement released after Williams announced the office’s closure, Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick called the development unfortunate. “We remain committed to working with companies interested in creating quality, family-supporting jobs in Wisconsin,” the statement read.

Werner said Gogebic and the state GOP used the mining proposal for “Walker’s personal political gain to give false promises of jobs they had no intentions of delivering to people in northern Wisconsin.”

And now, Werner continued, “We have the responsibility to work together to develop real, sustainable jobs in tourism, clean energy, forestry, family farming, health care, education and more that won’t sacrifice our land, water and wildlife for future generations.”

Environmentalists also are working for permanent protections in the area and to change the measures adopted to favor the Gogebic project.

“We will work to repeal the laws written by Gogebic Taconite based on false science and equally false promises that gutted environmental protections for this single proposal,” said Dave Blouin, mining committee chair with the Sierra Club -John Muir Chapter. “Gov. Walker and the Republican Legislature…are willing to sacrifice northern Wisconsin in exchange for campaign donations to further their political ambitions. The governor and the GOP-led Legislature gave Gogebic Taconite everything it wanted and gave state residents nothing in return.”

The Sierra campaign will focus on repealing Act 1 and Act 81, enacted in 2013.

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Walker says he didn’t solicit mining company money

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is saying that he played no role in soliciting donations from a mining company on behalf of a key conservative group that ran ads supporting him during the 2012 recall attempt and that he didn’t even know the company donated to the group.

While at a Kenosha campaign stop over the weekend, Walker said he was not aware of $700,000 donated by Gogebic Taconite in 2011 and 2012 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

When asked if the donations and subsequent legislation last year — which streamlined state mining requirements and paved the way for an iron mine in northern Wisconsin — were part of some pay-to-play scheme, Walker said, “That’s a ridiculous argument.”

Walker said he had long been supportive of easing regulations on mining.

Court documents released last week by a federal appeals court show that prosecutors believe Walker solicited donations for Wisconsin Club for Growth to get around campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements as he fended off the recall attempt.

Aides told Walker to tell donors that they could make unlimited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth without having the gifts publicly disclosed. Wisconsin Club for Growth then funneled the money to other conservative groups that advertised on Walker’s behalf.

It’s not clear from the documents whether Walker followed the instructions from his team. But the documents say millions of dollars later moved from donors he was set to speak with to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn funded groups backing Walker in the recall election.

The documents are part of a secret investigation into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the run-up to the June 2012 recall, which was spurred by anger over Walker’s signature law stripping most public workers of nearly all their union rights. The probe has dogged Walker as he is locked in a dead heat with Democratic Mary Burke in the governor’s race and considers a 2016 presidential run.

At a later Racine stop over the weekend, Walker said he helped solicit contributions to Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 primarily to help Republican state Senators who faced recalls.

He said he is not raising funds for Wisconsin Club for Growth in the current election. He also said he doesn’t believe he raised funds for the group during his 2010 campaign for governor.

A federal judge in Milwaukee halted the secret probe in May after Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit alleging the investigation violated its free speech rights and the prosecutors are liberals out to harass and tarnish conservatives.

The prosecutors have asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow them to restart the probe. The court released the documents tied to that appeal in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of media and open government groups.

The documents became briefly available on a federal court website last Friday. Attorneys have been arguing over which ones should be made public, and the records were quickly removed.