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Group: Wisconsin Could Get The Shaft From Mines

January 2, 2009

Madison, WI - Wisconsin needs better laws to help protect natural resources threatened by mining, according to a national conservation group. The Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining is looking to the new administration to push for federal changes in mining laws that are more than a century old.

The last big mining battle in Wisconsin was fought several years ago, when plans for the huge Crandon mine in Forest County were abandoned. However, the larger questions, about mining rights and the environmental impact of mining practices, remain. Velma Smith, who manages the Pew Campaign, lists three basic goals for an update of the federal mining policies.

"We need to protect the public, protect the environment for the long-term, and protect taxpayers so they're not paying the bill for cleanup."

Another thing that has changed since the mining laws were created, Smith explains, is that mining companies face a lot of competition for the land that used to be wide open spaces.

"There are a lot more people using our public lands for recreation. There's a variety of uses."

According to Smith, mining companies have been getting a great deal since 1872, when Ulysses S. Grant encouraged westward expansion by allowing liberal access to mine on public lands and keep the huge profits, tax-free. The mining laws have not changed much since then - although, as Smith points out, the government is in no position to be giving the mining companies a great deal at taxpayers' expense.

"We should be looking for every dime, and we should not continue to give away public resources for free, for the profit of a few. Profits at a certain level should be shared."

Supporters of mining operations say their industry provides much-needed employment and can be done responsibly. Those who want to change the federal mining law want miners to have to pay royalties for their take, and to clean up environmental damage they cause.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI