There are three simple truths about iron mining in Wisconsin.
1. Saying "No" to iron mining in Northern Wisconsin means saying no to generations of good jobs, no to hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues Northern Wisconsin families need to support their schools, their police and firefighters, and their senior citizens; and no to hundreds of millions of payroll and tax dollars for the rest of Wisconsin.
2. Saying "Yes" to mining in Northern Wisconsin does not put Wisconsin's environment at risk.
3. Making either of the first two statements will prompt a political environmental activist (which is not the same thing as an environmentalist) to disagree.
The first statement is supported by facts anyone can check.
• The iron deposit in Wisconsin's Iron County is one of the largest and best iron deposits in the United States.
• NorthStar Economics, a leading economic impact analyst, estimates that the first phase of mining being considered:
Would employ 700 workers at an average wage and benefit package worth about $80,000 a year and would indirectly generate another 2,100 full-time jobs;
Would last about thirty-five years, generate nearly $1.5 billion in new wages and produce about $15 million a year in taxes and fees for local governments in the area.
• The world's largest mining equipment manufacturers, Bucyrus and Joy Global, and their vendors employ thousands of well-paid union and non-union workers in the Milwaukee area. These companies and their employees would all benefit from the development and operation of the iron mine in Northern Wisconsin.
Facts also support the second simple truth.
• Wisconsin's current mining laws were developed to regulate sulfide mining that requires the use of powerful chemicals in the mining and refining processes.
• The ore deposit in Iron County is a ferrous (i.e., iron) deposit, not a sulfide deposit. Ferrous mining relies on water and magnets, not chemicals, in the mining and refining of the ore.
• Minnesota and Michigan, the two states that now regulate all U.S. iron mining, both have ferrous/iron mining specific mining laws.
• The Wisconsin Legislature is considering creating ferrous mining regulations similar to those in Minnesota and Michigan.
• If the proposed legislation passes, the company proposing to operate the mine:
Would have to comply with all federal environmental requirements and regulations, including those established by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers regarding wetlands;
Would have to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) – just as they would under Wisconsin's existing sulfide mining laws;
Would have to conduct research and analysis to determine potential impact on air and water quality, fish and wildlife, flora and fauna, and public health and safety.
• The research is likely to take somewhere between 1 ½ and 2 years and cost approximately $20 million. The process assumes that WDNR officials and experts will be working closely with the company during the research and analysis leading up to the EIS and the WDNR would have about a year to review the company's EIS before being required to issue or deny the company a permit.
• The WDNR will only approve a permit for the mine if it concludes that the mine can operate in an environmentally responsible manner.
Given the rigorous environmental safeguards with which the mine would have to comply, it is difficult for me to understand why anyone would oppose the economic benefits and improved quality of life the mine would bring to Wisconsin and local communities across Northern Wisconsin. There will, however, be opposition and those of us who support encouraging and regulating responsible mining ask only that you hold supporters and opponents to the same standards. Demand facts. Remember that an iron mine is not a sulfide mine and check the relevance of the facts offered. Consider the needs and wishes of the people nearest to the mine, more than 80% of whom indicated in a recent poll that they want the mine, the jobs and the stronger tax base?
I support the proposed iron mining legislation not just as a businessman whose company could profit from having a major mine in Wisconsin, but also as a private taxpayer who cares about Wisconsin's economic future and believes that the people of Northern Wisconsin are entitled to a shot at a brighter future for their children and grandchildren.
Tim Sullivan is the chief executive officer of Oak Creek-based Bucyrus International Inc., a mining equipment manufacturer.