By Joe Bachman
STEVENS POINT — Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Zach Vruwink, Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza, and Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke came out against Senate Bill 395, which seeks to roll back long-standing sulfide mining regulations.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters (WLCV) hosted a summit at the Portage Co. Annex that went into detail of what S.B. 395 intends to repeal. According to WLCV Northeast Organizer Seth Hoffmeister, a lack of mining regulations put the environment at risk to dangerous toxins and chemicals that come from the waste-rock produced from mining in the pits.
“When you are opening up these giant pits, sometimes in your water and wetlands, you get acid mine drainage,” said Hoffmeister to city leaders. “An EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) report has called sulfide mining the most toxic industry in America. — …in this practice, there has never been a sulfide mine that has not polluted nearby drinking water, or groundwater, lakes, rivers and streams.”
According to Hoffmeister, to date, there has never been a single sulfide mine that has been opened up, operated, and closed without producing pollution. This statistic stood out heavily to Mayor Wiza.
“I think the most significant thing for me is that you’re going to get a mine that goes up, starts its production, does everything in the book that they can to ensure the safety of their employees and their environment and the spoils of that mine — but when something happens, all they can do is go ‘whoops’ — and then someone is going to be on the hook; very likely us as taxpayers to try and clean that up.”
Mayor Vruwink echoed Wiza’s statements, citing concern over how fast the bill has been predicted to be pushed through the Senate. If passed, the bill would repeal regulations in place since 1997.
“I think that history is powerful — to think about where this could go, and respecting the past action on this issue,” said Vruwink. “While times may be different, the circumstances of the world and environment in which we live in are not different, and to just give these industries a pass to forever change the lives of people not only living in the communities, but farmers who earn their livelihoods on resources that Wisconsin enjoys is very concerning.”
Wiza suggested that all three mayors draft a joint letter of opposition to the bill, which would be then sent to every senator in the State, including other colleagues and city and state officials. Historically, the issue of mining regulation has been a non-partisan issue, and the sudden deregulation has brought much attention to many local and state officials.
“While we all represent political boundaries, our environment does not operate in political boundaries.” said Vruwink.
S.B. 395 could be voted on as soon as next week, and if passed through the Senate, would then make a trip to the Assembly. While the bulk of the work, for and against this bill, will be done in Madison, according to Vruwink, it affects the entire state, including Wisconsin Rapids.
“We truly love spending our leisure time and our resources to vacation and enjoy what is great about Wisconsin,” said Vruwink. “The thing about this bill that concerns me the most is that it repeals so many protections that protect groundwater and those natural resources, which we hunt, we fish, we spend that time outdoors — it really accelerates the process of which we can really degrade and negatively impact our environmental resources.”