In nearly four short years, Scott Walker has turned Wisconsin’s political culture on its ear. Division, cronyism, and political retribution have become the norm as Scott Walker has routinely crossed lines to fuel his own personal political ambitions and please his campaign benefactors.

Keeping with our recurring series highlighting some of the worst pay-to-play scandals under Scott Walker, we take a look at the controversial Gogebic Taconite mine proposed in Hurley, WI.

In 2011, Florida-based iron ore mining company Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) bought mineral rights to 21,000 acres of land along 22 miles of the Penokee Range in Ashland and Iron counties. GTAC is an LLC owned by The Cline Group and was created for the sole purpose of mining iron in Northern Wisconsin.

GTAC has never operated an iron mine before, but that isn’t stopping them from planning the largest open pit iron mine in the world in Hurley. If completed, the mine will be 4.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, and 1,000 feet deep. [1]

Chris Cline, owner of The Cline Group and a billionaire coal titan, is notorious for donating large sums to politicians and agencies that control mining regulations and permits to manipulate the process in his favor.

In Illinois, the Cline Group subsidiary Hillsboro Energy sent several contributions to the Washington County Democratic Party Central Committee between 2008 and 2013. During that time, the company was seeking a permit from the Department of Natural Resources for the Deer Run longwall mine. [2]

Scott Walker’s pay-to-play culture opened the door wide open for Chris Cline to influence the legislative process and erode Wisconsin’s mining laws. Between 2010 and 2013 Cline made $14,500 in contributions to Scott Walker and state Republicans - including an $8,000 donation to Scott Walker in September of 2010. [3]

That same year, several people associated with Cline also contributed more than $40,000 to three pro-mining legislative candidates in the span of two months. In 2012, Walker raised $200,000 during a single luncheon in Palm Beach, Florida — where Cline lives. [4]

By 2013, corporate mining interests had contributed more than $15.6 million to political candidates in Wisconsin. [5] To put that in perspective, mining interests donated $610 for every $1 donated by environmental interests. In Walker’s Wisconsin you get what you pay for. For Cline and the executives at GTAC, it bought exclusive access to influence mining legislation and brought about controversial Assembly and Senate bills aimed at reforming mining laws specifically for the proposed mine in Hurley. It even bought access to the Governor's Office, which assisted GTAC in drafting its own legislation.

GTAC publicly asked for certainty and predictability in the mining permit process, but secretly requested massive and sweeping environmental changes.
SB 1/AB 1 severely weakens environmental regulations, limits citizen input, and takes away upfront payments to communities affected by mining and job training grants to address the mining industry skills gap.
 
Many experts and stakeholders have not been consulted in the drafting of SB 1/AB 1. Conversely, last fall, the Senate Select Committee on Mining, led by Senator Tim Cullen, heard from a variety of stakeholders from across the state who shared what they thought would be responsible mining legislation.
 
The only public hearing on the bill was facilitated by state Senator Tom Tiffany, who received $74,915 from special interests that supported mining deregulation between 2010 and 2012. [6] At the hearing, neither the US Army Corps of Engineers nor the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission — the Ojibwe inter-tribal organization that manages tribal resource rights in the region — were invited to speak. [7]

All 11 recognized tribal nations in Wisconsin are opposed to the mine, and six tribes have asked the EPA to intervene in the controversy, citing environmental concerns. [8]  

SB 1/AB 1 removes the mine's accountability to tribes. The waste water is expected to contaminate areas where the Bad River tribe holds traditional rice harvests. The water contamination will not only destroy wild rice in the area  including the largest wild rice reserve in the world  but will also contaminate fish the tribe has also traditionally relied on, which are expected to bioaccumulate huge levels of mercury as a result of the mine, threatening the health of the tribe and of nearby cities. [9]   

GTAC is proposing to generate more than enough waste from the mine to bury the entire city of Green Bay under a pile 10.5 feet deep, or put the whole city of Milwaukee six feet under. This waste will contain the materials that cause “acid mine drainage,” as well as other hazards such as mercury, arsenic, and asbestos. [10] [11]

Background

[1] “On the Front Lines of Wisconsin's Big-Money, Small-Town Iron Mine War, Vice, 6/10/14

[2] “Illinois Mine Safety Head Took Thousands in Campaign Contributions from Coal Baron Chris Cline, EcoWatch, 8/2/14

[3] “Mine Backers Drill With Big Cash To Ease Regulations, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, 1/28/13

[4] “Mine Backers Drill With Big Cash To Ease Regulations, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, 1/28/13

[5] “Mine Backers Drill With Big Cash To Ease Regulations, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, 1/28/13

[6] “Mine Backers Drill With Big Cash To Ease Regulations, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, 1/28/13

[7] “On the Front Lines of Wisconsin's Big-Money, Small-Town Iron Mine War, Vice, 6/10/14

[8] “Tribes ask EPA to intervene in Gogebic iron mine proposal. Journal Sentinel, 6/27/14

[9] “Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council Inc

[10] “What to know about lung cancer and mining, Clean Wisconsin

[11] “Acid Mine Drainage and the Gogebic Taconite Mine, Clean Wisconsin