Water. You can't live with it. You can't live without it.
If water is part of a river, stream or wetland that obstructs the expansion of an enterprise, then the water is something the enterprise can't live with. If the same water lies within a broader view that encompasses the sustainability of life on Earth, then it's water we can't live without. The water remains the same. Only the views of it are diametrically opposed.
The enterprise side will invariably cite the positive economic benefits that will accrue from what it views as an insignificant, negative impact on water quality and, thus, the environment. Call the set of arguments in support of enterprise the economic impact.
The sustainability view invariably cites the significant, negative impact on water quality that results from enterprise interfering with the natural order. Call that set of arguments the environmental impact.
The water that will be impacted by the approval of a permit application by Gogebic Taconite to extract taconite from a 22-mile long stretch of the Penokee Hills in Ashland and Iron counties is a matrix of aquifers, wetlands, lakes, streams and rivers.
They combine to form a watershed that sustains the land and life around it while flowing north to empty into Lake Superior.
Gogebic Taconite will concentrate taconite from the iron deposits within the land it leases. The process uses water from aquifers below the mine site to float iron ore so that it can be separated from its parent rock by magnets. The process repeats until the maximum of iron can be isolated and then concentrated into taconite pellets. The remaining material, called gangue, is destined for settling ponds and tailing piles.
Gogebic Taconite promises on its website to avoid impact on streams and wetlands where possible and to minimize and/or mitigate harm if those impacts cannot be avoided. It also promises no net loss of streams and wetlands. Further it says it will comply with the federal Clean Water Act and all effluent limitation regulations.
If we take the mining company at its word, then it's fair to ask why the Wisconsin Legislature is bothering to stage a GOP-sided debate over a bill to streamline the mine permitting process. Why don't we simply allow Gogebic Taconite to be the good neighbor it wants us to believe it is?
The answer to that, of course, is that Gogebic Taconite isn't the good neighbor it claims to be. If we forgive the economic extortion tactic it is using when it says it will pull out of the state with its 700-job promise if the permitting process isn't streamlined, then we would at the same time be foolish to overlook the meaning behind the wording of its promises concerning water quality and how they handshake cordially with language in the mine-permitting bill being advanced in Madison.
The latest state Senate version of the permit-streamlining bill contains provisions that dovetail nicely with the language of Gogebic Taconite's promises. For example, the bill requires the mining company to search for nearby sites on which to build artificial, or mitigated, wetlands to replace those destroyed. But the DNR can still give the mining company approval to build those artificial wetlands elsewhere in the state. The bill also contains the provision that unless the DNR grants an exemption, mining waste cannot be dumped into a floodplain.
Gogebic Taconite is attempting, with the aid of a compliant, GOP-controlled Legislature, to alter the saying: It is always easier to later ask forgiveness than it is to first ask permission.
In essence, The company wants the state to make it easier for it to ask permission to balance its harm to wetlands through questionable attempts at mitigation so it will later find it easier to ask forgiveness when those attempts end in failure.
The problem is that Gogebic Taconite will be long gone before we discover the negative effects of its deception and find ourselves forced to live with them.
Garson lives in Crawford County; www.karlgarson.com.