Scott Walker's DNR Spends Conservation Funds on Special Interest Mining Proposal

Dec 14, 2014

Scott Walker’s Department of Natural Resources has diverted nearly $260,000 in funds intended to support conservation programs in Wisconsin, to include revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, to cover costs related to a proposal by a controversial out-of-state mining company with political ties to Walker.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is today reporting that the state has spent $258,968 on costs related to a proposal from Gogebic Taconite, (GTac), but will not charge the firm for the expenses, which include gathering background data, meeting with county and federal agencies, alerting the public to information about the proposal, and developing rules and policies related to mining. The costs associated with the mining proposal, which are expected to rise significantly, were covered in part by revenue from hunting and fishing licenses. In December, the DNR reported a record low deer harvest and a decline in hunting licenses and antlerless deer permits, although permit prices rose on average.

GTac, a mining special interest helmed by a right-wing Florida billionaire, has never operated an iron mine before, but that isn’t stopping them from planning the largest open pit iron mine in the world in Hurley. If completed, the mine will be 4.5 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, and 1,000 feet deep. All 11 recognized tribal nations in Wisconsin are opposed to the mine, and six tribes have asked the EPA to intervene in the controversy, citing environmental concerns. 

GTac publicly asked for certainty and predictability in the mining permit process, but secretly requested massive and sweeping environmental changes, donating $700,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth for Scott Walker in exchange for access to the legislative process. By 2013, corporate mining interests had contributed more than $15.6 million to political candidates in Wisconsin, or $610 for every $1 donated by environmental interests. GTac ultimately had exclusive access to influence mining legislation, to include assistance from the Governor’s Office in drafting their own legislative proposals, and helped bring about controversial Assembly and Senate bills aimed at reforming mining laws specifically for their proposed mine in Hurley. 

SB 1/AB 1 severely weakens environmental regulations, limits citizen input, and takes away upfront payments to communities affected by mining and job training grants to address the mining industry skills gap; it also caps fees and costs for mining companies seeking permits from the state, like GTac. 

Despite changes in the law written at GTac’s request, the state’s funding of costs related to the controversial proposal seems unusual, at least to some insiders with knowledge of the process. Rep. Nick Milroy noted to the Journal Sentinel that the state typically does not incur costs for a business absent an agreement to create a specified number of jobs, while former DNR Secretary George Meyer commented that the state was “able to get virtually all of the funding reimbursed” by mining companies with proposals in Flambeau and Crandon.

“While sportsmen and women in Wisconsin are spending more money to hunt fewer deer this year, their license fees are going not to conservation programs but to a controversial proposal that will benefit an out-of-state special interest group that gave $700,000 to Scott Walker,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Monday. “You really get what you pay for in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.”