Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Contaminating Wisconsin - the debate over mining

Really, it's hard not to blog about guns again. The Assembly went ahead and passed the 'castle doctrine' law - that you can shoot anybody you want to if they come into your house or car uninvited. This gun business has become a mark of our cultural pathology. What are we really afraid of? Fact is, I think we are most afraid of finding the real answer to that question.

I agree with State Rep. Fred Kessler on this one: "I am deeply troubled with the whole trend." Prosecutors, members of the bar, judges are almost unanimously opposed. Time to stock up on bullet proof vests.

So what I'm blogging about today is mining and the toxifying of the State of Wisconsin, this beautiful land of rolling hills, farms, lakes and rivers, wetlands, prairies, forests, and some of the most beautiful shorelines in the world. And we are pretty awfully reckless with these natural wonders.

You've probably been following the debate about relaxing rules and regulations around the mining industry focused lately on the proposal of Gogebic Taconite to begin open pit mining for iron ore up in the Hurley/Ashland area. It is a dreadful proposal, despite the inevitable claims by the company that this can be done in a way that protects the environment. This always astounds me - how insane do they think we are that we are supposed to accept the argument that you can open the earth to massive mining without harming it? The question is how much harm are you going to do?

And this morning the Journal Sentinel had a great answer on the front page. Lee Berquist writes about another mining project, the Flambeau Mine near Ladysmith, considered to be the 'poster child' of environmentally sound mining practices. Copper and zinc were gouged out here from 1993-1997 and it turns out that the toxic contamination of soil and water is serious and continuing. Read about it here.

Wisconsin politicians are good at turning over more of the state's natural gifts to destructive industries. We are mining sand used by natural gas companies for fracking, implicating us directly in this ecologically destructive industry. It is destructive where the drilling is underway; it is also destructive where the sand mining is underway.

Now, politicians, many journalists, economists, op-ed writers, and pundits tend to tout these industries as job creators, saviors of local economies. The implication here is that any job is a good job and that these are the ones available, potentially. But that is not a statement of economics so much as a political statement reflecting which sectors of the economy have power over the political decision-makers. Mining is one kind of industry; there are others.

Our state is blessed with possibilities for a different kind of economy, one that harvests solar energy and wind, one that focuses on water research and protecting natural water systems, one that boosts energy efficiency through every part of the society, from homes to factories to larger buildings and systems, one that supports the end of industrial farming and subsidizes the re-invigoration of the family farm, that supports the development of more organic farming and farmers markets (especially since right now demand exceeds supply), or that instead of gutting public services restores funding for teachers, health workers, and firefighters, or that prioritizes repairing the infrastructure of our schools and transportation, one that commits to mass transit and restores priorities like high speed rail.

It is not impossible to develop industries that respect the beauty and natural richness of our state. But right now we simply have the wrong people in office, backed by the wrong kind of corporate interests, to make that happen.

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