Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Natural Resources Board Approves New Rules for Sulfide Mining

State Regulators Must Notify Tribes Located Near Any Proposed Sulfide Mine

By Danielle Kaeding, Wisconsin Public Radio

New rules governing sulfide mining in Wisconsin were unanimously approved Wednesday by the state Natural Resources Board. The regulations would make mining companies pay more for permits and licenses, as well as outline areas that are considered unsuitable for mining.

The changes are part of proposed new permanent rules for nonferrous metallic mines that extract sulfide minerals like gold, zinc and copper. The rules aim to comply with changes as part of a 2017 law that repealed the state’s decades-old mining moratorium. The moratorium required companies to prove other mines operated and then were closed for 10 years without causing environmental harm.

Industry officials and Republican lawmakers hope the law will open the door to a billion dollar industry, while environmental groups fear it will lead to water contamination.

The proposed rule changes are estimated to increase costs for mining companies by about $502,000 over the life of a project, according to board documents. The DNR proposed increasing exploration fees and costs for the regulatory review of projects. The rules also require increased reporting and more detail in operation and construction plans.

This body of water was once the site of the Flambeau Mine, which is the only nonferrous mine that has operated in Wisconsin in the last 40 years. Photo by Rich Kremer/WPR.

Nathan Conrad is the executive director of the Natural Resource Development Association, a pro-mining group formed just before the state’s mining moratorium was repealed in 2017. He said his group supports the board’s decision. Conrad said he doesn’t think the additional fees will be a prohibitive factor for companies interested in Wisconsin developments.

“It provides a lot of clarity to ensure that we can create an opportunity for potential for mining in Wisconsin, but to do it in such a way that continues to uphold the good environmental standards we have followed,” said Conrad.

Under the changes, the state must also notify Tribes of any proposed sulfide mine that’s near their reservations or affects land where they have federal treaty rights.

The board delayed action on these rules at its December meeting after concerns were raised that some Tribes may be omitted from receiving notification of proposed mines. State regulators would be required to notify Tribes whose reservation boundaries are within 60 miles of any proposed mine or Tribes that have federal treaty rights in the area of a proposed project.

Tina Van Zile, Environmental Director for the Mole Lake Band and Sokaogon Chippewa Community, said the Tribe appreciated the opportunity to be involved in changes related to notifying Tribes. But, she noted the Mole Lake Band continues to object to the 2017 law while recognizing rules must be put in place to comply with those changes.

“We hope the law and rules will adequately protect the land, water and air in the future because the decisions we make today affect the future generations long after we’re gone,” said Van Zile.

Read or listen to the full story here.