Wisconsin's Landmark "Prove It First" Mining Moratorium Law
Before the 'Prove It First' or Mining Moratorium Law was approved, the mining industry was challenged to give one example of a mine in metallic sulfides that had been safely operated and closed without polluting the environment. Mining metals found together with sulfides causes acid mine drainage (AMD) when the sulfides are exposed to air and water causing acid production that leaches toxic metals in waters. To this day, the mining industry has not documented a single proven example.
Mining Sites in Northern Wisconsin Wisconsin Network for Peace & Justice
Similarly, state regulators were tasked by the Natural Resources Board to search for examples and were unable to document successful metallic sulfide operations. Wisconsin DNR staff issued a report issued in 1995 that discussed the science proving the risks of AMD and stated: “There are no ideal metallic mineral mining sites which can be pointed to as the model approach in preventing acidic drainage industry-wide.” This conclusion by the state confirmed the industry’s failed environmental track record of mining metallic sulfide ores.
As a result, the Wisconsin State Legislature approved the Mining Moratorium Law by overwhelming bi-partisan margins (27-6 in the Senate and 91-6 in the Assembly. Click here for the list of current and former legislators, including current Governor Scott Walker, who voted for the law) and signed by Governor Thompson as 1997 Act 171.
The Moratorium Law established a permit condition that must be met before final permits to mine are granted. The law is already a compromise due to the DNR’s determination that two different mines could meet each 10-year requirement for operations and closure without causing pollution; this despite the clear intention of the law to require a single mine as an example.
There is nothing in the law to stop a company from applying for permits today unless the industry is unable or unwilling to demonstrate an example mine. In fact, a recent survey of metallic sulfide regulation in the Great Lakes region by the National Wildlife Federation called Wisconsin’s Mining Moratorium an exemplary law.