Xiomara Castro, the first woman Honduran president, just banned open pit mining in her country because of it’s toxic pollution and the consequent health impacts on wildlife and human life. This marks a huge turning point in a country long exploited for its natural resources at the expense of everything Hondurans hold dear – especially clean, safe water. This remarkable turn around happened when the Honduran people got fed up enough to elect political leaders who actually cared more about them than big, usually foreign, mining corporations. The quest for natural resources in countries like Honduras relies on corporate-friendly political leaders, cheap labor, non-existent or unenforced environmental laws – and the people’s powerlessness to stop it. This, essentially, is what drives the crushing poverty of Third World countries.
On Tuesday, May 3, those who attended the Marathon County Environmental Resources Committee meeting to discuss a possible sulfide mine east of Wausau, after being told there is nothing local government can do about the mine, left wishing the Honduran president would move here to central Wisconsin. We need her wisdom and courage in the face of political leaders who are way too friendly with big corporations. Here’s why:
Fact – Sulfide mines are inherently toxic and inevitably contaminate the water we all drink, cook and bathe in.
Fact – In 1997, the Wisconsin legislature by an overwhelming and bi-partisan vote passed Act 171, the “Prove it First” Sulfide Mine Moratorium. Before sulfide mines could even be considered mine companies had to demonstrate it could be done without pollution for at least 10 years. They could not. Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson signed Act 171 and it became law.
Fact – In 2017, Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 134 after partisan, Republican votes in both the State House and Senate. Moratorium gone; worse still, our power to stop the pollution of our own water went down the drain.
Even our local government’s power to protect its own citizens was stripped away by Act 134. The Canadian owned Green Light Metals application to bore test holes using drilling fluids that will likely contaminate our ground water cannot be contested by Marathon County unless that application is incorrectly completed. Greenlight plans a sulfide mine after assaying the ore body. Sound like corporate, Third World exploitation to you? Worse still, there could well be PFAS in those drilling fluids. Even our DNR is in the dark on this. Shouldn’t that be clear before the drilling begins? As we all know by now, PFAS is a very dangerous chemical.
In Wisconsin, what’s good for sulfide mining is also good for single use plastics. As our eyes were opening to the increasingly horrific extent of plastic pollution here at home and around the world the petrochemical industry began to read the handwriting on the wall, and for them it spelled trouble. Sentiment in cities and towns worldwide and across our state was beginning to swell, momentum was growing to ratchet down, even ban single use plastics. Here’s what happened next:
Fact: In 2015, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican controlled State Legislature passed Act 302, stripping local city and county governments of their ability to do anything to regulate, ban or price single use plastics. No matter that plastic pollution has gotten so bad that it’s now showing up in our blood, we can’t stop it. And even as we learn that bits of plastic are building up deep in our lungs, no matter how much we might want to put an end to the single use tip of a very large plastic iceberg, there is nothing you or I or our local governments can do about it. This is fact, not political diatribe. Third World politics are at play right here at home; politicians cozying up with big business to the detriment of “we, the people.”
We all know how the political fault line splits along the critical issue of climate change. Most Democrats calling for action, most Republicans saying no. Our legislative paralysis on climate only underscores the point I am making here.
If we hope to have a livable planet for ourselves, and leave a habitable one for our children and grandchildren, both parties must come to the environmental legislative table in earnest. The primacy of clean water, clean air and clean soil unites us all. We must demand it of all our political leaders with our voices and with our votes. The time to be dedicated environmental voters begins today. The time to return decisions about protecting our water, air and soil to local control is now. As the sustainability of our homelands continue to diminish we are running out of time.
You can voice your opposition to the mine by registering to speak at the County Environmental Resources Committee meeting in Wausau on July 5. And remember to use your vote to protect our environment and our right to local control. It’s the only planet we have.
Dan Barth of Mosinee
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