The Mining Bill released by Assembly Republicans late last week is clearly a case of Legislative patronage to a corporate sponsor – in this case, Gogebic Taconite Mining, LLC. Not surprising, but more disturbing, are the covert links to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Koch Industries, and closer to home, Hamilton Consulting in Madison. All three have created an expressway of influence to Wisconsin Legislation for co-opting state resources – creating record profits for themselves (which they will ultimately pay little tax on) and untold burdens on middle class taxpayers and the environment. The investigation starts with high(or low)lights of the bill itself.
The intricate and lengthy bill will receive its first (and only) scheduled public hearing a mere six days after its release, at State Fair Park in West Allis, in front of Mary Williams’ (R) Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business. The nature and members of this Committee assure a fast track approach by GOP leadership – more on that later. As much has been written in other media about the bill, here is a “Top 10” impacts on policy in the bill:
1. The new law would supersede any rule-making authority the DNR now has regarding mining permitting and regulation.
2. The new law would rescind the requirement for a public informational hearing prior to the release of the Environmental Impact Statement, regarding the content of the EIS.
3. The new law rescinds the requirement for a “contested-case hearing.” This hearing is conducted under Administrative rule, with testimony under oath, and allows for cross-examination of testimony.
4. DNR will have a 360 day deadline to act on a permit request. If this window expires, the permit is automatically granted. DNR would no longer have consideration of the “quality of information” submitted in a report, and may not reject a permit based on that question. DNR may request clarification, but this does not delay the process within the 360 day window. A national study shows the average time for a mining permit review to be 2-4 years (source – US Army Corps of Engineers).
5. The new law does not allow for a person aggrieved by a DNR decision regarding permitting to a “contested-case hearing” under administrative rule. The only remedy is in the courts. additionally, the new law states that no citizen may file suit against a permitted mining operation.
6. The new law would loosen the regulations for surface water withdrawal. The DNR would be unable to interfere with the drawing of surface water if doing so would “limit or interfere with the needs of a mining operation.”
7. The new law would allow a mining company to request exemption for any law under the permitting process. DNR would have 15 days to respond.
8. The new treatment of the Occupancy Tax would take 50% of the net tax to go into the state general revenue fund. Under current law, 100% stays in the community, and is administered by a local board.
9. Conditions regulating contracts, leases, and record keeping transparency are rescinded.
10. Weakens (virtually eliminated) DNR rule making authority in regard to ferrous mining. The new law also only applies to ferrous mining permitting.
ALEC Influence – None of these deregulating, anti-environmental measures are original to Wisconsin. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its corporate sponsors have been forwarding this type of pre-approved, corporatic vetted model legislation to right-wing lawmakers for years. As has been the pattern for sweeping policy bills under current GOP leadership, the Mining Bill is a conglomeration of several pieces of ALEC Model Legislation. Primarily, the bill utilizes elements of the Resolution_on_Environmental_Justice_, Performance_Based_Permitting_Act, and Groundwater_Protection_Act.
The ALEC connection and influence in Rep. Williams’ committee could be a primary reason for the bills placement in said committee. Of the nine Republicans in the Committee on Jobs, six are known ALEC members. They are Kapenga, Klenke, Knilans, Kuglitsch, Loudenbeck, and Petryk. Undoubtedly, these six members would recognize immediately the influence of ALEC on this bill – and the power, money and influence behind this legislation. Assuredly placed for quick passage in this ALEC-friendly committee.
Koch money and agenda – Koch Industries has a greater interest in the Wisconsin Mining Bill than its investment in ALEC. Among Koch subsidiaries are companies who would profit greatly from the establishment of iron ore mining in the Badger State, primarily through materials and systems for mining operations. Not to mention the potential for Koch to bring its mining operations directly to Wisconsin.
More draconian is the Koch political philosophy, exercised with great consistency. The Koch brothers have perfected “shadow spending” to influence politicians and the electorate. Their methods (practiced for decades) can be summarized in three steps. Establish and fund third-party, biased media (such as MacIver Institute in Wisconsin); establish and fund conservative “think tanks” to promote favorable research outcomes; and establish and fund legal groups to write scripts for lawmakers and file favorable briefs on behalf of right-wing interests. All those elements are in play in Wisconsin for Koch Industries, and there is one firm acting as the access point for this influence on Wisconsin Legislation – Hamilton Consulting.
Hamilton Consulting is located at 10 East Doty in Madison – the same building as Koch Industries lobby. The direct line to ALEC in Hamilton is Amy Boyer. Boyer has recently become the Wisconsin co-chair for ALEC. Her influence in legislating doesn’t stop there. Boyer is a lobbyist at Hamilton Consulting, whose clients include Koch Industries, Xcel Energy, Manitoba Hydro, and The Wisconsin Mining Association. There are other lobbyists at Hamilton with like clients – Robert Fassbender and Andrew Engel are both registered for Koch Industries and Wisconsin Mining. In addition to writing the scripts for lawmakers on behalf of Koch/ALEC; Hamilton Consulting supports the legal research happening in Wisconsin on behalf of right-wing corporate interests through the Great Lakes Legal Foundation.
The Great Lakes Legal Foundation (GLLF) lists many of the same legal staff as Hamilton – Robert Fassbender, Andrew Cook, and Emily Kelchen. The board of GLLF includes Hamilton/Koch lobbyist Fassbender, James Buchen (Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce WMC), Raymond Taffora (Michael, Best, and Friedrich) and Nickolas George (WMC). GLLF is so intertwined with ALEC, GLLF links to a study funded by ALEC titled “The EPA Regulatory Train Wreck” on their “Policy Projects” page, and staff attorneys have presented at ALEC conferences. While all the activities of Hamilton Consulting and GLLF demonstrate a direct link and affiliation with ALEC and the Koch political machine, how has this affected the development of complex mining legislation? Follow the money.
According to Democrat sources in the Assembly, the process of drafting this mining legislation has been kept extremely secret and behind closed doors. In May, BizTimes reported that Mark Honadel (R-Milwaukee) would be introducing mining legislation to ease regulations and the permitting process. This confirmed source information that Honadel is a key figure. Two other names surfaced – Mary Williams (Committee on Jobs Chair – see above) and Jeff Fitzgerald.
Both Honadel and Fitzgerald are members of ALEC. Williams’ district is the closest geographically to the proposed Gogebic Taconite minesite controlled by a Republican – and her campaign finance report shows significant contribution from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and energy lobbies such as XCel energy represented by Hamilton Consulting. As for Honadel and Fitzgerald – the campaign contributions by Gogebic in 2010 are telling.
The ALEC members Honadel and Fitzgerald both received significant contributions from the mining company Gogebic Taconite. In fact, several executives of the company made the maximum $500 individual contribution for the 2010 Assembly election cycle. Fitzgerald received $1500, and Honadel received $2500. Fitzgerald, as Assembly Speaker to push the bill through a favorable committee, Honadel to use his ALEC influence to author, and Williams to act as willing accomplice representing a geographic area impacted by the mine.
All the players were placed through use of corporate money and influence; and Hamilton Consulting, GLLF, ALEC, and Koch provided legislative, legal support and guidance through the process for willing GOP lawmakers. Scott Walker and the GOP are proceeding all-out to pass this mining bill, which will turn out to be a long-term disaster for the environment and Wisconsin – due to the nature of the bill being considered. The bill benefits the aforementioned Corporatics, not the people of Wisconsin.
In fact, in the end, should this mining bill pass, it will likely cost the state more than the supposed 700 jobs could ever make up for. It will be a replay of Wisconsin history, when Robber Barons such as Byron Kilbourn made land grabs to build railroads at the expense of the people and the state – generating massive wealth for a handful of industrialists. This action prompted the rise of Progressivism in Wisconsin back then – perhaps this is the start of its return…
Time to end the new Robber Baron era. And it starts (again) in Wisconsin.