With only three weeks to go til Valentine’s Day, the Republicans in the State Legislature of Wisconsin are doing what no men ever do: shopping for their beloved before the last minute. Indeed, in what can only be called a sweetheart deal to both Gogebic Taconite and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – the former an out-of-state mining company, the latter a much-flawed private entity (that used to be a public one before Scott Walker took over) – the Republican juggernaut essentially promises what any sugarcoated candy on February 14th does: “be mine.” Only in this sense it’s not just a command in the possessive sense; it’s also the Republican diktat that the Gogebic mine be. Corporate profit and bought-off lawmakers, true love if there ever was.
Nearly a year ago I scribbled about the proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin. I did not necessarily think the issue would be so quickly déjà vu’d. Alas, there but for the gracelessness of a failed recall and gerrymandered legislative districts ensuring a Republican hegemony in the state Gogebic mine rears its disgusting head again. Last year, thanks to the slimmest of majority margins and that rarest of present day things – an independent-minded lawmaker, Republican state Senator Dale Schultz – the bill was suspended until it could be improved upon, until its environmental safeguards could be ensured, with which compromise doctrinaire conservatives in both the state Senate and Assembly refused to have anything to do. Should you be interested or bemused in that scribble, you may kindly refer to it here.
So what’s different this time around? Nothing but stubbornness and a heap of hubris high as the piles of waste rock that will litter the open pit like so many cairns of dumb rubble. Last year, after the bill stalled, the mining company, Gogebic Taconite (or GTAC), threw a hissy fit conniption and stormed off, saying they would take their business elsewhere. They didn’t, of course; it was a vane display of whiny and wheezing paper tigers. After Walker survived his recall in June, and then later in November when Republicans gained more control in the state Senate while resuming their stranglehold* in the Assembly, GTAC managed to get over its temper tantrum and announced it would apply for a permit to mine the Gogebic range in Ashland and Iron Counties. This sounds matter-of-fact enough, but bear in mind that the current mining bill is nothing more than a rewording of last year’s, which had been essentially written by GTAC itself. Of course it stuck around; its sole existence is tied to the Gogebic range of Wisconsin.
(* Correction: strangleholds are reserved in the state Supreme Court, care of Justice David Prosser’s office. I beg your pardon.)
Unlike last year, there is only one public hearing being held on the proposed revision to the state’s mining laws – taking place as I write this, here in Madison, a 5-hour drive away from the parts of the state that would be affected by this mine. No additional hearings will be held in those counties whose citizens would have the most to gain – or lose – notably the Bad River Tribe of Ojibwa Indians, whose very heritage is at stake. Instead, if you want to say yeah or nay at the hearing, get in your car or get on a bus and look forward to a 10-hour roundtrip drive to the Capitol in Madison, where you may or may not even have a chance to speak for at best three minutes. Literally in the middle of the work week, on a Wednesday. In the cold dead of a Wisconsin winter, where statewide the temperatures have been below zero the last week. And this itself only announced quietly last Friday afternoon – before a long holiday weekend – less than two working days earlier. This couldn’t wait until spring? Having learned absolutely nothing from the last legislative session itself or the public outcry against the earlier version of this bill, the Republican playback has been to double-down and ram this thing through at all cost. Would that the revision be more a re-vision.
Said Democratic State Representative Janet Bewley, of Ashland, “It is absolutely clear they [Republicans] are not interested in how the people of the North feel unless they agree exactly with what they are doing. If you have a different opinion you are shut out, or you have to get in your car and drive all the way to Madison and wait in line, and hope that they’ll hear you. I am stunned, myself: I thought I had seen it all.” Guess again. And welcome to the new Wisconsin, established November 2010.
The conservative elite like to flat-out dismiss Madison as a bubble or a liberal island out of touch with the rest of the state — “real” Wisconsin, as they would have it. Leaving aside the prejudice of their agendas and the hollow procedure of public “hearings,” it is reasonable to associate a great deal of testimony as the consensus not of the state, but the citizenry of Dane and surrounding counties who live closer to the Capitol building and can more easily register their praise or plaints. That and let’s face it: liberals love expressing their opinions and self-alleged expertise (present company excluded, of course). But it does not follow that therefore all public input during hearings should be taken with a grain of salt or totally discredited as being disproportionately askew. What it means is public hearings should be held throughout the state, particularly when the topic at hand is rewriting the state’s very mining laws in order to allow one particular company to build the largest mine in the state’s history — indeed, the largest open pit taconite mine in the entire world. Wisconsin’s a big place, and the infrastructure for public transportation is deplorable. The fact that Republicans could/ would not even manage to schedule a single public hearing up north where all of the mining would be happening gives them away. They have the votes to pass this, and it’s what Walker wants. Period.
And it will pass, to be sure, probably sometime in March. After that the DNR will have a 420-day review period, which will simply be more perfunctory pantomime, as the agency’s secretary, Cathy Stepp, was appointed by Walker quite specifically. Once this burlesque formality is over and all is approved — which it will be — that timetable would bring us roughly to May 2014 — just in time for the governor to look good during his re-election. Tah dah!
It will pass in the State Legislature, be signed by the governor, sail through the do-little yes-men of the DNR, and hop along hale as hell past the kangaroo proceedings of the state Supreme Court. But the only jobs that will be created are those for lawyers and paralegals, as state Senator Tim Cullen quipped, knowing full well that this law will be directly challenged in federal court and bandied about in limbo for years. Now, it is a commonplace that Republicans generally don’t like the federal government (that is until or unless their subsidies come rolling down the pork barrel pike), but like GTAC, they’re going to have to learn to get over their shared harrumph that federal law supersedes state law. Sorry fellas! And at least the federal government cares about clean water — which the Gogebic Range has a superabundance of, and would, if at risk, be protected under a little old thing called the Clean Water Act — even if our tainted state government doesn’t. Furthermore, the Army Corps of Engineers has effectively stated that the proposed bill does not pass muster. Plus there’s this pesky business of the United States Constitution, which lays out rather unequivocally in Section 8 of Article 1 that “Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” Congress. Not the Republican-controlled State Legislature of Wisconsin. Not Scott Walker. Not GTAC. And guess what? The Bad River Tribe is such a recognized nation.
It never ceases to amaze me that lawmakers can be so thoroughly unaware of actual laws. Their ignorance is rivaled only by their arrogance.
So maybe that’s why this time around I’m not as incensed as I was last year. Call it faith. Or maybe it’s fatigue. Which isn’t to say that this issue will all play itself out nice and pat without the least protest. The proposed mine is deadly serious — and seriously deadly (see below). But I guess I have enough confidence in the utter incompetence of my lawmakers to be led so astray by sheer greed that like any married man in the web-lied bed of his mistress he will by and by be caught. That reckoning can be one tough son of a bitch. After all, as linguist Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out, “However people try to redeem it, there’s no sin that’s privately more shameful and unloveable than greed, the vice that the poet Matthew Green called ‘the sphincter of the heart.'” Because if you can’t even give a shit, which perhaps requires the least effort of anything we can do, then you’re wholly incapable of love. And what else is greed but another word for lust — which act pretty much presupposes an absence of a sphincter. Which organ happens also to be missing in the legislative body currently run by Republicans. There may be a few reputable members, but too few I fear who won’t swallow the sugar-coated poison pill of this bill. May their tryst be swift and the heartburn hurt like hell.
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For more information pertaining to the actual details of the “revised” bill, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters has issued two releases — this and this — both of which are quite revealing. Should you be feeling really wonky, the Badger Democracy blog has some consummate nit and grit about the actual mining process itself about which you may educate yourself all you like here.
Also, the good folks at Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative have put together a thorough and weighty article (see here) that convincingly analogizes all the hullabaloo of the Gogebic mine to the state’s last mining debacle in the Flambeau River region of Rusk County. They meticulously track the verbatim PR of job creation and environmental safeguards. Long live amnesia!
Finally, if you are a fellow futilitarian like myself, here are the email addresses of the main lawmakers to contact in regard to the bill:
As always, thanks for reading and caring.