In a recent Esquire article
, Charlie Pierce cuts through the sound-chamber bullcrap and illuminates the hidden agenda (or not so hidden) agenda of Republican Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans to sell the State of Wisconsin piece by piece to their corporate donors. Charlie sums up the essence of what is going on by writing, "[Governor] Scott Walker, ...[was] hired by Koch Industries to manage their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin".
The recent mining bill passed earlier this year in Wisconsin purely on a Republican party line vote is a prime example. Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), a unit of the Florida-based Cline Group, has been eyeing an iron ore deposit in the pristine Penokee Hills of Northern Wisconsin for years. This ore deposit runs through Ashland and Iron counties less than 30 miles from Lake Superior and is at the headwaters of a massive watershed that drains into Lake Superior (Figure 1).
The problem for GTAC has always been Wisconsin's community-first environmental standards, the traditional mining tax structures (ie. tonnage tax) that all other Midwestern mining states use, the unusual pitch of the ore deposit and its proximity to environmentally sensitive wetlands making this extraction financially unfeasible.
However, when you have complete Republican control of state government and years of corporate donations (Figure 2 shows just a few of these) to buy said state officials, a company like GTAC and its larger out of state parent company, the Cline Group, can just re-write state legislation that is far more beneficial to them.
The bought and paid for Republican legislators and Governor Scott Walker then passed the corporate written legislation into law. This cycle of corporate donations to achieve favorable and profitable legislation for the corporations is unfortunately nothing new in United States politics. Although the hubris in which it has been done in Wisconsin and the complete disregard to what will happen to the local residents is stunning in this newest example. The new mining law that was signed by Scott Walker on March 11th, 2013 strips out numerous environmental safeguards, allows GTAC to fill in small streams and wetlands with mining waste and shifts the financial burdens of expanded EMT services, road repairs, infrastructure upgrades all onto already financially strapped small communities.
If that weren't bad enough, the entire dog and pony show surrounding this bill was to tout the economic development and the new jobs it would bring to an area of Wisconsin that has been struggling for years and already had unacceptable levels of unemployment. Yet this new bill cleverly replaced a tonnage tax on the mining company with a "profit" tax and provides no assurances that outside workers won't be shipped into the state to fill any significant new jobs that might be needed. Proof that Scott Walker's economic development plan for Wisconsin is nothing more than a dog and pony show lies in the fact that under Scott Walker's watch Wisconsin is now 44th in job creation
and 49th in economic outlook
When you really break down the economics of this new mining bill and factor in the inevitable devastating environmental impacts and clean-up costs, this mining project is a lose-lose prospect in almost every sense to the locals including the downstream Bad River Band of the Chippewa (Ojibwe) and a massive corporate giveaway to Scott Walkers corporate donors. Sadly, most of what has been happening in the pristine wilderness of Northern Wisconsin has been flying under the national radar and even downstate Wisconsinites barely have more than a 30 second sound-byte understanding of what is really going on. In a nutshell Walker, the Koch Brothers and Chris Cline are using Wisconsin as a test case to see if they can bamboozle the uninformed and financially depressed local residents into accepting their corporate promise of a few new jobs in return for becoming the next West Virginia of zero environmental protections, mountaintop removal mining, low paying mining jobs and almost no chance of upward mobility. And this test case hopes to be the largest iron ore mine in the world. Company officials have publicly admitted the mine will eventually be over 1000 feet deep and 22 miles long
The local groups and Ojibwe bands planning a spirited defense will eventually need national reinforcements if there is any hope to stop the biggest phase of the Republican planned conversion of the State of Wisconsin into Wisconsin Inc.
For more information on the Penokee Hills Mining Issue check out these additional resources:
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