A huge win, it's also just a hit on the pause button. Here's some context and ideas about paths forward.
By Rebecca Kemble
Documents released last Friday afternoon from the John Doe investigation into potentially illegal campaign activities by the Scott Walker campaign during the recalls of 2011-2012 contained hard evidence of what many Wisconsinites have long suspected: that corporations whose sights are set on extracting resources for private gain are paying big bucks to rewrite our laws in their favor.
Even though all limits on the size of direct campaign donations are removed for candidates facing recall elections in Wisconsin, the Walker campaign still found it necessary to hide the source of the millions it solicited during 2011-2012 to keep him and his legislative allies in power.
According to emails between Walker campaign staff, the Wisconsin Club for Growth was the dark money clearinghouse that apparently coordinated “issue advocacy and “correct messaging” with the Walker campaign. Much of the money that came in the WiCFG door went back out to other political operatives like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Citizens for a Strong America and the Jobs First Coalition to back Walker and Republican state senators facing recall or special elections in 2012.
An affidavit from one of the John Doe investigators, Dean Nickel, reads: “WiCFG bank records reflect that Gogebic Taconite LLC donated $700,000 to WiCFG in 2011-2012.” As Mr. Nickel states, “After the recall elections, special legislation was approved in 2013 expediting the mining permit and approval process for Gogebic Taconite. Recently special legislation was also introduced benefiting Gogebic Taconite by closing access to publicly available forest at the proposed mining site in Northern Wisconsin. The legislation was supported by Governor Walker as well as WiCFG.”
This revelation is not surprising to those who have been following the machinations of mountaintop removal magnate Chris Cline and his local lackeys from Gogebic Taconite, a company incorporated in Delaware with a small store front office on the infamous Silver Street in Hurley Wisconsin. We already knew about the more than $15 million in direct campaign donations by pro-mining interests to Walker and his legislative cronies, and we heard directly from Senate Majority Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald that GTac lawyers literally wrote the bill that eventually became Act 1.
Scott Walker invited pro-mining political operatives to join him at the podium during his State of the State address in 2013, boasting that passing the mining bill was at the center of his job creation plan. And on the evening that the mining deregulation bill passed the Assembly, after all members of the public were evicted from the public galleries, we saw GTac CEO Bill Williams and his engineer Tim Myers emerging from the chambers of Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, beating a hasty retreat before members of the public could recognize them.
This video compilation tracks the efforts of conscientious politicians and citizens to unearth the forces and actors pushing forward the wildly unpopular proposal:
When news of the $700,000 donation was revealed last week, state senator Bob Jauch commented on his Facebook page: “The announcement confirms our argument that the company along with the WMC bought and paid for a legislature that conforms to their ideas. In 2010 the company contributed close to $120,000 to purchase unaccountable ‘issue ads’ to try to defeat me. In 2011 they contributed $700,000 to help Scott Walker in the recall. In 2012, the WMC and Gogebic spent close to $3 million in the Oshkosh Senate race in order to ‘get the legislature we want.’ ”
So what did all that campaign cash actually purchase?
It bought a law that makes a legally vague, unscientific distinction between “ferrous” and “nonferrous” metallic mining. According to Larry Konopacki, senior staff attorney of the Wisconsin Legislative Council, if there is iron present in the proposed mine site, a mining operation would fall under the new, lax regulations, even if metals or minerals other than iron are mined.
Act 1 is in fact a crazy attempt to legislate into existence an alternate reality where laws of physics and chemistry are suspended. In this fantasy world, "ferrous" mining produces no acid mine drainage, doesn't cause significant damage to the environment, nor does it affect human health or degrade quality of life. It is also a bald-faced assertion of the superiority of the mining industry over the value of wetlands in the Lake Superior basin.
During the public hearing process scientists, public health officials and other concerned citizens produced evidence contrary to GTac’s claims about the safety of taconite mining, including the documented presence of both grunerite, a mineral containing long asbestos fibers, and sulfide-rich pyrite, a mineral that when crushed and mixed with water produces sulfuric acid. Still, the majority Republican legislature signed off on the legal fiction contained in the new statute that “ferrous mining” is significantly less dangerous than “nonferrous mining” and therefore requires less regulation.
In passing Act 1, legislators also agreed to exempt the “ferrous” mining industry from public health and safety protections that apply to all other people, industries, and local governments. Portions of laws concerning conservation, wild animals and plants, navigable waters, harbors and navigation, regulation of dams and bridges affecting navigable waters, groundwater protection standards, captive wildlife, water and sewage, pollution discharge elimination, air pollution, solid waste facilities and hazardous waste management evidently will not apply to GTac.
The Walker Administration has gone out of its way to help wealthy corporations like GTac that would plunder the wealth of our land and labor and leave us in social and ecological ruin.
The outcome of the court battle over whether Walker and his accomplices can be held accountable will determine if citizens can wrest back control of their democracy, and protect our communities, land, air, and water.