Associated Press – MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker voted to ban copper and gold mining in Wisconsin two decades ago. Now he may be asked to lift the one of-a-kind prohibition as his fellow Republicans push to continue opening up the state’s north woods to mining.
Conservationists have warned pollution from mining for so-called sulfide ores such as copper, zinc and gold could devastate northern Wisconsin’s water — one of the reasons the Legislature adopted a de facto moratorium on such mines in 1998. But after relaxing the state’s iron mining laws four years ago, GOP lawmakers have introduced a bill that would lift the prohibition. They say they want to jump-start the economy in the rural, sparsely populated northern half of the state.
The measure could put Walker in a tough situation, forced to choose between sticking with his long-ago vote when he was in the Assembly or signing the bill in hopes of sparking a slumbering industry. Supporting the measure would be a reversal he might have to explain on the campaign trail next year.
“Support for repeal (of the moratorium) would be a complete contradiction and a clear indication that the governor is not concerned about people and wildlife being exposed to toxic pollutants,” said Sarah Barry, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin. So far, Walker hasn’t said what he’ll do.
Mining gold, copper, zinc, nickel and other metals isn’t as simple as sifting rocks through a pan. The metals are often bonded to sulfur, forming sulfide compounds. Such compounds produce sulfuric acid when exposed to oxygen and water, creating the risk that mining runoff could pollute streams and rivers.
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