Eric Genrich column: We can do better with mining bill

7:20 PM, Mar. 4, 2013  |  Comments
State Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay
State Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay
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Working people of Wisconsin deserve good, family-supporting jobs and economic security, but the mining bill proposed by Sen. Tom Tiffany and Rep. Scott Suder offers neither benefit. As written, the bill also degrades public health safeguards and eviscerates wetland protections. We can do better.

This legislation, which was largely written by the out-of-state mining company that is potentially interested in digging the mine in the Penokee Hills, contains no assurances with respect to job-creation numbers or to the quality of these potential jobs and no guarantee they will be filled by Wisconsin workers. Even if the mining company's job predictions are to be taken at face value, what price are we willing to pay? For example, the bill

? Assumes significant adverse impacts to wetlands within the area.

? Eliminates the safeguards that prohibit mining efforts from negatively impacting public health.

? Fails to generate significant revenue to reinvest in the local economy.

? Caps the amount the state can charge the mining company to review the application, potentially forcing taxpayers to subsidize the profits of an out-of-state private equity firm.

Instead of auctioning off our natural resources and minerals to the highest bidder without maintaining appropriate safeguards, I prefer a balanced approach to job creation and middle-class income growth that protects our natural resources, invests in our schools, strengthens and increases the affordability of our health care system, and devotes appropriate resources to 21st century energy and transportation needs.

Currently Wisconsin ranks 42nd in the nation in job growth, wages are stagnating or declining for far too many of our citizens and the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow. If Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans continue their economic development strategy of letting corporate interests write legislation and eliminate health and environmental safeguards that protect us, we cannot expect to compete with our Midwest neighbors in the constant struggle to attract and retain high-skill, high-wage employers.

Balanced economic growth and shared prosperity can't be created on the cheap and they won't be created by out-of-state mining companies and private equity firms with no history with or tie to Wisconsin. Instead, we must return to our progressive tradition, one rooted in the Wisconsin idea that real progress is achieved when we work together as public officials and private citizens to protect and strengthen our shared resources - natural and man-made - for the benefit of all.

Walker was right to point to the state flag in comments related to the mining bill during his State of the State address, but he was wrong to focus solely on the coat of arms' miner. Our state flag gives pride of place to a sailor, which symbolizes Wisconsin's long and storied relationship to the waterways that surround and flow through our great state. We would do well to honor both traditions, by protecting our precious waterways and natural resources, retaining reasonable mining legislation and abiding by our state motto to move Wisconsin "Forward" toward a better and more prosperous future.

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