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Why I Voted Against the Open-Pit Mining Bill

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 13 March 2013
in Wisconsin

I am writing to provide you with an update about the open-pit mining bill. I voted against the bill when it was before the Senate. Prior to this, my colleagues and I tried to improve the bill with 20 bipartisan amendments, which were voted down. Since this is such a significant issue, I wanted you to know the latest.

The open-pit mining bill passed the state Senate by one vote. Recently the Assembly passed the bill 58 – 39. The Governor signed the bill into law last Monday, March 11th.

I want to explain a little about the bill and why I opposed it.

Wisconsin has a long history of mining. We also have a carefully crafted law that allows mining. In fact, as recently as 1993, the Flambeau Mine in Rusk County operated under the current law. I have read this law in detail. It is very thorough and has evolved over the years to accommodate changes in the industry and in public health and environmental needs. It is well balanced, involves local citizen input and provides resources to local communities affected by mining.

A few years ago, a West Virginia coal mining company, Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), asked Wisconsin to change the law. The concern conveyed to the Legislature by the company was the lack of certainty and predictability in the mining permit process. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed there could be positive changes to the law to bring certainty for mining companies and to streamline the permitting process.

I agreed there needed to be a clear deadline by which the state must agree to permit or not permit a mine.

Changes in creating the right process and timing had to be carefully balanced because Wisconsin is not the only player in permitting a mine. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must approve a federal permit that shows the mine will comply with the federal Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The Corps acknowledged that one of the most significant opportunities to speed up the process was to make sure the law allowed for the collaboration between the state and the federal government by respecting federal law and the time needed by the federal agency.

The timelines had to be carefully established to allow for the concurrent review of the permitting application by the state and federal government. Also, it would be in the best interest of all those involved if the law allowed one single environmental impact statement be submitted. These statements are very expensive, highly technical and often disagree.

This particular location for the mine will affect the streams leading into the Bad River. This river flows through the reservation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa. Native American tribes and bands are sovereign nations. As such they have their own clean water standards and laws that the mine must agree to follow if the mine engages in activities that would affect these waterways.

This past summer and fall the Senate Select Committee on Mining, led by Senator Cullen, collected over 20 hours of public testimony. Input was gathered from the mining association, industry experts, environmentalists, Native Americans, the Department of Natural Resources, the US Corps of Engineers and many others.

From this work Senator Cullen, Senator Schultz and Senator Jauch drafted a bipartisan bill to change the process. This bill, known as Senate Bill 3, added a 520-day deadline to the permitting process. The bill allowed for a collaborative process between the mine owners, the state and the Army Corps of Engineers. The bill that was only 25 pages did not change Wisconsin environmental law, nor did it release the mine from any existing environmental law. The bill allowed for a master public hearing once the DNR approved the permit and made immediate payments to the local communities affected by the mine. The bill did not release the mine from following local laws.

I found this bill to be a carefully balanced approach. I cosponsored and voted for a version of SB 3 on the Senate floor.

Unfortunately there was a parallel process to draft a different mining bill. The bill was drafted behind closed doors during the last legislative session. Modifications were made in secret during December of 2012. Newly elected Senator Tiffany introduced the bill in January of 2013. The bill, known as Senate Bill 1, received one public hearing in January and was modified by the committee on Finance and brought to the Senate floor in late February.

Senate Bill 1 had a number of problems that my colleagues and I tried to correct on the Senate floor. Chief among the problems were the potential environmental damage caused by the mine to local water sources, ground water and harm to navigable waterways.

The open-pit mine proposed by GTAC would be the largest of its type. The iron ore deposit is roughly 22 miles long. The first phase of the mine would be 4 ½ miles long and a mile and 1,000 feet deep. The waste from this mine (434 million cubic yards) would fill 3 times over the volume of Lake Monona. The waste materials would be used to fill lakes and streams – contaminating water with toxins like arsenic, lead and mercury.

The bill allowed the mine to not follow a number of environmental regulations related to water. For example, the bill allowed the mine to fill streams less than two miles long and ponds less than two acres wide. Proponents claimed this filling of streams and ponds was necessary. Senator Schultz argued on the Senate floor so many streams would be filled they would stretch from Lambeau Field to Camp Randall – 108 miles.

The taking of Wisconsin’s navigable waterways may violate Article IX of the Wisconsin Constitution that contains a clause known as the Public Trust Doctrine. The constitution protects the rights of the people of Wisconsin to use the water ways as common highways and forever free.” During the Senate debate I heard testimony that the filling of streams and lakes would likely result in an immediate court challenge.

Taken in its entirety, SB 1 added longer delays and higher costs to the mining permitting process particularly because of the unworkable time frame from the federal agencies position. The bill creates a fractured and uncertain process that will likely lead to a many year delay by the US Corps of Engineers. The bill will almost certainly result in lawsuits from the tribe and others concerned with the violation of the Wisconsin Constitution. The fiscal estimate – or cost to the state- prepared by the Department of Justice recognized these likely court costs to the people of the state of Wisconsin. The DOJ said they were unable to determine how high the court costs would be.

Mines pay fees to the state for the right to extract minerals. Unfortunately SB 1 uses the net proceeds tax” and allows the mine to write off” expenses and avoid making payments to the local communities impacted by the mine. This is especially troublesome during the early years of the mine when the communities would most incur costs like new road construction or the hiring of additional law enforcement officers.

Because of the lack of local resources to cope with the effects of the mine, the environmental damage and the permission to avoid following local ordinances, many local elected leaders in the Northern Wisconsin opposed the bill. For example, the Mayor of Mellon, the city nearest the mine, strongly opposes the mine. I also received a resolution from the Washburn City Council opposing the mine.

The strongest argument the proponents of the mine made was the possibility of job creation in an economically depressed area of the state. But even this argument is questionable. I carefully reviewed the only economic impact statement used to demonstrate the jobs created by the mine. The analysis by NorthStar Economics is made up almost entirely with assertions about dollars and jobs but without any supporting evidence. There are only two sentences in the 26 page document that describe the author’s assertions. There was no basis by which to evaluate the author’s assumptions, methodology or accuracy.

Taken in its entirety, SB 1 did exactly the opposite of what it claimed to do: It created a more uncertain, less predictable and longer process than we now have in Wisconsin’s mining law. The bill undermines the authority of the Department of Natural Resources by taking away the discretion the department has to work with a mining company. The bill releases the mine from many environmental protections. The bill releases the mine from complying with local ordinances. The bill does not provide resources to local communities –especially in the early years of the mine. The bill creates a mining process that will almost certainly end up in court.

There is a clear alternative to SB 1. We can choose a mining bill that gives greater certainty to the process, does not change environmental law, will not end up in court and provides resources to communities affected by the mine.

I’ve been hired by the people of the 31st Senate District to represent their interests in Madison. I received over 200 contacts related to the open-pit mining bill. Overwhelmingly the people of my district opposed this bill. Over 95% of those who contacted me opposed the bill. These numbers are similar across Wisconsin. It is clear to me that people want a bipartisan bill that does not destroy the pristine North Woods.

We should not presume the only way to have mining in Wisconsin is to degrade our wetlands, rivers, lakes and streams and ignore the rules and needs of local people.

For these reasons I voted against the open-pit mining bill SB1.

Thank you so much for your email. Please feel free to share this message with your friends. Please contact me regarding any issue of concern or interest to you.

 

Sincerely,

Kathleen Vinehout
State Senator - 31st District

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Republican Open-pit Iron Ore Mining Bill Bad for Wisconsin

Posted by Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D. is a physician and a former congressman from Appleton.
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on Wednesday, 13 March 2013
in Wisconsin

APPLETON - Shame, shame, shame on all legislators who voted for dirty air, dirty water and bad health for people in Wisconsin.

Remember, we have seen this movie before. It's called the China Way, and it did not have a happy ending. China sacrificed its environment for short-term economic gain, and their people are now paying the highest price possible: more cancer, more dirty air and water pollution that can never be undone.

The Wisconsin Way must never become the China Way, for in Wisconsin we believe in clean air, clean water and healthy people - not corporate greed.

Please join me in supporting the Bad River Band of Lake Superior in their efforts to protect Wisconsin's precious environment. Together, We Will...

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A smart health care marketplace!

Posted by Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D. is a physician and a former congressman from Appleton.
User is currently offline
on Monday, 25 February 2013
in Wisconsin

APPLETON - In 2006, I ran for public office for the first time in my life to end discrimination against my patients with pre-existing medical conditions - and I succeeded.

After a century of trying, we finally established that health care is a civil right. Beginning next January, no insurance company, anywhere in these United States, will be allowed to decline insurance coverage to any citizen. In other words, if you're a citizen, you're in. As a physician, I know this is a really big deal.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law nearly three years ago, yet most families and small business owners are still unaware of the new freedoms they've won. Families can now have peace of mind, for no longer will they go broke and lose their home just because a loved one becomes seriously ill. Small business owners are now receiving tax credits to help pay for their employees' insurance coverage. Simply put, the Affordable Care Act is good for your health and your business.

Our new law puts patients first, holds insurers accountable, strengthens Medicare and levels the playing field for small businesses. Putting patients first means physicians may do what is best for patients. No thoughtful person can oppose the freedoms we've won. But your new freedoms are yours for only as long as you can hold onto them.

We have begun to improve upon what we already have, but there is much work to do. This year, we must create a truly competitive health insurance marketplace in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker had the authority to do this, but he refused to do so even though the Wisconsin Regulatory Review Report of 2013 that he commissioned found the cost for health care is the top concern of small business owners. Our governor turned his back on my patients and small business owners, so it is up to us to write the rules for Wisconsin's new Health Care Marketplace.

To guarantee we receive the care we need at prices we can afford, critical questions must be answered. What do you want Wisconsin's health insurance marketplace to look like? What piece of the pie should insurance executives be allowed to take? Would you like to see the price of a pill before you swallow it?

Consider these questions:

Whose side do you want your doctor to be on, yours or the insurance company?

Should every insurance company have to sell the same health benefit plan so we can compare their quality, price and service apples to apples?

Should every business selling health care products and services have to openly disclose all their prices, so we can shop for the highest-quality care at the best possible price?

Should all patients be treated equally and at the same price for the same service?

Do you want to be rewarded for living a healthy lifestyle by paying less for your health insurance?

Do you want to be free to choose your personal physician, hospital and insurance plan?

Do you want to be free to go to any physician or health facility that accepts the same terms of your insurance plan?

Should insurance companies be allowed to write their own rules?

Answering these and other questions will help responsible officials to establish a patient-centered and highly competitive medical marketplace, one in which we will all have the freedom to choose our own caregivers based upon their quality, price and service.

Now is the time to think things all the way through. Take time today and visit these informational websites: www.Healthcare.gov and www.sba.gov/content/health-care.

As a practicing physician and co-author of our nation's new law, I am convinced today more than ever that we can fix what is broken in our health care delivery system state-by-state by putting patients first and creating a truly competitive medical marketplace.

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Taxpayer Asks Walker If It Was Worth It

Posted by Rich Langan
Rich Langan
Rich Langan is a member of the Democratic Party of Brown County and a former ele
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on Sunday, 09 December 2012
in Wisconsin

GREEN BAY - I got my property tax bill yesterday. I saved $30 over last year. Gov. Walker you have trampled the rights of every state employee, you have demonized and demoralize teachers, you have increased class sizes, you have destroyed collective bargaining, you continue battling Affordable Health Care, you have destroyed the right to protest your shenanigans by appointing a Gestapo police chief who will do your bidding. Now that you have the Senate back you will continue to lead Wisconsin back a hundred years, pollute the environment, destroy the public school system with vouchers, and continue your assault on voting rights. But I saved $30 on my property tax.

Well call me Warren Buffet but I would love to pay that $30 plus a lot more to allow families and neighbors to talk to each other again, and keep Wisconsin on a progressive track for the future for our workers and our children. 

Rich Langan

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More Facts Needed about Seniors and Obamacare

Posted by Nate Myszka
Nate Myszka
Nate Myszka has not set their biography yet
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on Sunday, 02 September 2012
in Wisconsin

There are lots of rumors about Obamacare. Many are aimed at scaring seniors, and it’s election time so we’re hearing even more. So what’s true?

Will “unelected bureaucrats” at the Independent Patient Advisory Board (IPAB) “ration” my care? No – Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checker, says “The IPAB is forbidden from submitting ‘any recommendation to ration health care,’ as Section 3403 of the health care law states. It may not raise premiums for Medicare beneficiaries or increase deductibles, coinsurance or co-payments.” Instead, it makes recommendations to bring costs under control when spending increases too much. Our elected Congress can overrule them anytime.

Is Obamacare doubling premiums, cutting Medicare, and reducing benefits? Again the answer is no, but you can check your own premium and benefits. Medicare’s actuary predicts premiums will rise only slightly in coming years, to $112.10 in 2014. And under Obamacare, Medicare’s budget still increases, but not as much as previously forecast. It does so by making Medicare more efficient and has actually extended Medicare’s life.

At the same time, Obamacare has added benefits to Medicare. Many preventive services are now available without co-pay or deductible so we can catch things early or prevent them altogether, saving money and lives. Seniors hitting the “donut hole” now get a 50% discount on brand name prescription drugs.

We know it’s an election year, but seniors have paid into Medicare and they’ve earned the truth. If you come across more rumors, please contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 414-771-9511.

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