A bill that would end the moratorium on sulfide mining in Wisconsin also retools other regulations aimed at easing the way for future mining projects in the state. The legislation is sure to spark a big fight between environmental and business interests over whether sulfide mining can be carried out safely in Wisconsin and whether the bill, in effect, will roll back protections.
Mining companies have eyed Wisconsin for years, but according to mining supporters, the state’s laws are too restrictive. The legislation targets mining for minerals such as copper, zinc, gold and silver in sulfide rock deposits that have the potential to create acidic runoff and pollute ground and surface water.
That is the chief concern of environmentalists: Sulfide deposits will leach into water and cause long-lasting damage. The last such mine in Wisconsin, near Ladysmith, was successfully closed and reclaimed in 1999.
But environmentalists point to copper and zinc pollution in a small stream on the site as evidence that the Flambeau mine remains a source of pollution.
One of the bill’s author’s, Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) said Monday that modern mining technology allows sulfide mining to be carried out safely. In the case of the Flambeau Mining Co., he noted a federal appeals court ruled the mine complied with federal clean water laws when it closed the plant.