About four months ago, a controversial mining bill was declared dead. Even Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams said the company was leaving the state because the Senate sent a “clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message.” An investigation by Badger Democracy has revealed that announcement was misleading and premature.
Even before the failed passage of the mining bill (AB426), Scott Walker appointed Tim Sullivan (President and CEO of Bucyrus – mining equipment manufacturer) as “Special Consultant for Business and Workforce Development.” In mid-June, Sullivan himself admitted that passing a mining bill was still a top priority. However, with the DNR reporting G-TAC withdrawing its exploratory permit and “packing up the operation;” any revised mining legislation easing the permitting and regulatory process seemed unlikely – especially considering the heavy push back from citizens and political fallout.
The lobbying and money trail of G-TAC and mining interests continue to show great interest in mining legislation. It is highly unlikely a company would commit so many resources to an effort it had “given up on.” Gogebic spent over $200,000 in 2011 lobbying for mining legislation. That’s not all – G-TAC has put new lobbyists on the effort – adding 4 in November-December 2011; and one as recently as February 2012.
Of the new lobbyists, 2 are from “Arrowhead Strategies” in Madison (Thomas Fonfara and Robert Seitz) operating out of 10 East Doty St, the same building as the Koch Industries lobby. Both have lobbied for the American Federation for Children. Jack O’Meara began lobbying for G-TAC in February 2012.
The final two recent lobbyist additions are G-TAC employees – Engineer Timothy Myers, and President Bill Williams. As the lobbying investment continues, it is unlikely G-TAC would give up on such a heavy investment – one that dates back to January 2011.
Recent Mining Bill emails disclosed under open records requests reveal a series of communications between the parties authoring the legislation early 2011. The process started at the law firm Whyte, Hirschboeck & Dudek (WHD) and attorneys Thomas Pyper and Michael S. Rogowski (at the time both lobbyists for Gogebic). Ironically, Rogowski was also a lobbyist for the Ho-Chunk Nation and has since withdrawn from Gogebic. From there, the draft legislation written by WHD went to Walker’s office for proofing. Next – either to DNR for rule clarification or directly to the Legislative Reference Bureau attorneys, who wrote the legislation to comport with statutory language.
Of particular interest is the exchange on page 11 of the emails. The email originates from Attorney Rogowski (Gogebic) to “Scott and Keith” – no doubt Keith Gilkes (Gov. office) and Walker himself. The email is an introduction to Marc Holtzman “meeting with Scott (Walker)” to help with his campaign – including “contributing.” Marc Holtzman is Vice-Chair of Barclay’s and failed 2006 GOP candidate for Colorado Governor from Aspen. The contact was initiated by Larry Wolk, President and COO of Correctional Healthcare Management in Colorado – now pushing for privatized correctional healthcare nationwide. Always a campaign for Walker. But we’ve digressed.
WHD senior partners have been rewarded well for their service in writing mining legislation for Walker, GOP, and G-TAC. In February 2011, Mary Stitt (husband Donald is partner with WHD) was paid $215,000 by the Walker Campaign as “lead fundraiser” for Scott Walker. In July 2011, Don Daugherty, Senior Partner at WHD was appointed to Walker’s “Judicial Selection Advisory Commission.” WHD Partners also contributed $6,000 just in individual contributions to the Walker recall campaign.
With all this effort and investment, it would seem unlikely G-TAC would just “pack it up.” This is not mere speculation – they are waiting for the right time, and it will be January 2013.
A letter dated January 16, 2012 from The Wisconsin Mining Association (Tim Sullivan, President) urged Assembly passage of AB426:
Our board is supportive of AB 426 because
we believe the legislation accomplishes…goals critical to creating a reasonable regulatory framework under which we can promote responsible iron mining in this state.
At the bottom of the list of WMA Board Members are two names – Jim and Kennan Wood, of Wood Communications Group. Today, as Badger Democracy was preparing this expose, The Progressive published a July 19, 2012 letter from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Senior Vice President James Buchen to Kennan Wood. The letter references a meeting between “Kurt (Bauer), Scott (Manley – WMC Director of Environment and Energy Policy), and Buchen. The strategy is laid out, confirming the lobbying activity and connecting the dots. In brief, the strategy is to continue allowing G-TAC to take the lead in any further legislation, and wait out the results of the November election – without mentioning the issue to “George Meyer, Bob Jauch, or anyone else.”
Sorry WMC, WMA, and G-TAC – your secret is out. The question is, why is this being pursued so persistently? Former chief state geologist Bruce Brown has questioned the economic feasibility of the Gogebic Taconite mine. While G-TAC had received permits to do exploratory sample drilling, they have since cancelled those permits. According to the DNR, G-TAC has not taken any core samples at the mine site. According to Brown, there are two major issues. First – the sharp pitch of the iron ore. Normal pitch is around 50-56 degrees; at the Gogebic site, the pitch is 60-70 degrees. Second, the surface rock, according to Brown, is very deep – and may have a heavy sulfide composition creating additional costly extraction issues.
The DNR considers the Gogebic Mine to be a non-issue, remarking that the company has ceased all operations and cancelled permits. Yet they continue to invest political and financial capital into the project. If they haven’t taken samples, what are they (literally) banking on?
One anonymous DNR scientist shed some light on that question. The current mineral rights are owned by three companies – LaPoint, RGGS, and US Steel. According to the DNR, US Steel had made many exploratory efforts in the Gogebic range from 1950-1970. G-TAC is leasing the mining rights to that land from those companies. It is very possible that G-TAC has already seen results of core tests previously taken by US Steel. The effort being put into this legislative process by G-TAC is consistent with having knowledge, even if slightly outdated, that the mine would be highly profitable.
For the record, G-TAC did not respond to repeated questions regarding this article. Should the GOP take the elections in November, we will see a mining bill, written by G-TAC, again. And they will have an even greater vested interest in its passage.
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