The Highland Wind Project proposed for St. Croix County would bring over 100 jobs and enough clean renewable energy to power 29,000 homes in Northwest Wisconsin, should it get approved.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) voted 2-1 today to put the proposed Highland Wind Project in St. Croix County on hold, inviting the developer to reapply for a permit using different sound modeling.
“The PSC’s decision today demonstrates an abundance of caution that delays the application process, but does not kill this project,” said Katie Nekola, attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “Clean Wisconsin continues to support this project that promises to bring clean, renewable energy and jobs to Northwest Wisconsin.”
The PSC is requiring the applicant to provide additional evidence that the wind project will not exceed sound standards set by state law, according to a PSC press release issued today. Despite opponents’ claims that low frequency sound from wind turbines causes adverse impacts, all three commissioners agreed there was no proof linking the two.
“Study after study has proven that wind farms are a clean, safe and economic way to produce energy,” said Nekola.
The project would bring an estimated 100 jobs to St. Croix County and enough clean energy to power 29,000 homes. A bipartisan poll conducted in January 2012 found that 85 percent of Wisconsin voters would like to increase the use of wind energy to meet Wisconsin’s energy needs.
“Clean, renewable wind energy enjoys strong support from residents across the state and can help create thousands of jobs,” said Nekola. “Today’s decision is an unfortunate delay, but we look forward to working with Highland Wind to make this project a reality.”
Today, state legislators are holding the one and only public hearing on the iron mining bill.
We understand how difficult it is to take time off to attend a hearing in Madison, but we need as many people as possible to register their opposition to this disastrous bill. Luckily, you can do it from home.
In addition to contacting your state legislators directly (find yours here), you can email the Committee Chairs your personal testimony. To be entered into the official record, submit testimony via email prior to the end of today’s public hearing (9 p.m.) Your submittal should include a request that the testimony be considered part of the record. You are encouraged to request a confirmation.
In writing your testimony, speak about why this issue is important to you. Stories from people like you are far more important than spending all your time on talking points. However, if you do need supporting facts on the more egregious parts of this bill, please see our fact sheet.
(Yes, one is “wi” and one is “wisconsin.”)
By submitting testimony, you are helping to demonstrate what we already know: The majority of Wisconsinites support environmental protections over lax mining laws!
It’s no secret that I love fly fishing. In fact, I moved to Ashland 36 years ago so I could live closer to some of my favorite trout streams.
So when we began to hear rumblings that a mining operation wanted to move in, an operation that would harm the area’s pristine trout streams, I knew I had to act.
My name is Bill Heart, past chair of Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, and last year I had the opportunity to work with Clean Wisconsin to help defeat a dangerous mining bill that would have decimated my beautiful trout streams and put the Northwoods at risk. Unfortunately, legislators are already looking to revive this horrible bill when they head back to the Capitol next month. I know Clean Wisconsin will have a strong and vital role in the mining debate to protect the Northwoods in the new year.
The mining bill proposed last session was written by and for mining interests that wanted to roll back environmental protections, silence the voice of the public, and eliminate accountability for mining companies. As legislators promise to pass a similarly disastrous bill this session, I am doing my part to help ensure Clean Wisconsin has the resources it needs to keep mining laws strong.
Renew Your Commitment to Recycling
Although 75 percent of solid waste is recyclable, only about 30 percent is actually recycled.
By Laura Green, Clean Wisconsin volunteer
The prospect of proposed changes to Wisconsin’s mining legislation has recreationalists, environmentalists, and people in mining communities worried, to say the least. Despite mining industry claims that any mining operation would have minimal impact on the land, those in favor of maintaining current Wisconsin mining regulations have reason to worry.
One doesn’t have to look far to see why. Our neighbor Michigan has a long history of mining, leading up to plenty of environmental damage that Wisconsin should pay attention to. A potential danger of mining is acid mine drainage, where sulfides in mining waste rock mix with water and air to create sulfuric acid. Acid mine drainage caused problems at the Dober mine, an iron ore mine in the Marquette mountain range in the U.P. Drainage from the mine killed aquatic life in the Iron River as far as seven miles downstream from the mining operation in 1973. Pollution from Upper Peninsula mines has even affected Wisconsin. A 1980 Wisconsin State Journal article reported that Wisconsin sued Michigan after water flowing from Michigan rivers carried pollution 25 miles from abandoned mines, across state lines.
Selenium from two other U.P. iron mines, the Empire and the Tilden, leached into nearby waters. In 2009, the Michigan DNR found elevated levels of selenium in Goose Lake. According to an expert at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, selenium found near mining waste rock was thought to be the culprit of the contamination. Evidence of contamination was found in six area lakes and streams in addition to Goose Lake. selenium can damage fish populations and, if levels are high enough, harm humans who eat fish from contaminated lakes. Runoff from the mines led to fish advisories at Goose Lake.
Environmental damage from mining has significant economic consequences too. In the late 1990s, Michigan sued the Dober mine for polluting the Iron River. The state had to install a water treatment system to deal with acid draining into Iron River, for a total cost of $360,000. The government reports spending over $66,000 in 2009 to clean up contamination in the Iron River caused by the Dober mine. In 2010, the state reached a settlement with the Empire and Tilden mines for permit violations after the two mines discharged waste rock in unauthorized areas. The companies running these mines paid a $51,000 fine and also had to cover the cost of the government investigation (more than $4,000).
At the time of the settlement, the Empire and Tilden mining companies had spent $8.4 million on clean up and fixing pipelines to prevent toxic discharges from continuing to happen. Starting in December 2011, the Empire mine was also required to clean up the selenium contamination that polluted Goose Lake.
Then there is the Buck mine, an iron ore mine that opened in 1922. As of 2009, the government listed cumulative spending on the Buck mine at an impressive $3,662,090.
Wisconsin currently has strong mining legislation when it comes to environmental protection. Michigan has mining legislation too, though it is under this legislation that the environmental problems occurred with the Dober, Empire and Tilden mines. Michigan mining regulations require all companies to have a permit and submit an environmental impact statement. Before obtaining a permit, a mining company must submit a reclamation plan. The reclamation plan must include “Provisions for grading, revegetation, and stabilization that will minimize soil erosion, sedimentation, and public safety concerns.” Once a complete permit application is submitted, the government then has a mere 60 days to approve or deny the permit.
While a mining operation must submit a reclamation plan, the legislation only requires an environmental plan for the operation of the mine “upon request of the supervisor.” This plan would include a description of the mining area and any measures taken to prevent pollution and erosion. Interestingly, this piece of the legislation states that if the plan is based on “unknown factors,” the plan can be revised and re-submitted.
Michigan’s legislation does little to make the “unknown” known. For example, one expert in Michigan was concerned that a study of the groundwater in the area was not required before the start-up of a mining operation. Without being required to first study the area, a mining operation might not know they are dealing with sulfide-containing rock until they start extraction. By then, it would be too late to prevent problems like acid mine drainage. However, current Wisconsin regulations protect against this danger.
During the debate over mining legislation, many argued that we need to make our mining laws more in tune with our neighbors in Michigan and Minnesota; the high number of environmental problems stemming from Michigan mines cautions against this. Maintaining strong mining legislation in Wisconsin means protecting our land and water from the potentially disastrous effects of mining done wrong.
Clean Wisconsin members got our quarterly publication The Defender delivered to their door at the start of this month; if that’s not you, the full PDF is available here now: http://cleanwisconsin.org/defender.
Below is the full version of a story we printed in our summer issue, discussing the impacts of the mild winter we had in Wisconsin this year — some of which we are still feeling in the throes of a hot, dry summer. Clean Wisconsin spoke with an assortment of experts around the state, and they gave their take on a few oddities that have been seen: More algae, dry soil, lower lake levels and more.
Most Wisconsinites can agree, the winter we had this year was unusually mild: And how fabulous that was. We could go out of doors in just a few layers and a sweater some days. With less snow, there was less salt on the roads and sidewalks that could dirty up our shoes. Plus, game days at Lambeau became all the more bearable for those in the stands.
This is all old news by now, but the truth is, we are still feeling the impacts of this winter’s weird weather. Although Wisconsinites saved on heating costs and salting the roads this winter, we’re paying for it elsewhere in a number of ways.
Firstly, milder weather during the winter months led to thinning of ice sheets over our lakes. We heard all about sunken vehicles and disappointed ice fishermen in the news, but it wasn’t until this spring that another problem was discovered: an explosion of algal blooms below the surface.
Emily Stanley, from the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology, says the warm conditions this winter caused an influx of smelly, green algae that has become a problem all over the state. Although phosphorous runoff from point-source polluters is the main source of algae in our lakes, thin ice and a lack of snow coverage to block out sunlight gave the emerald-hued goo a major head start.
Stanley and her colleagues study the water chemistry and nutrients in Dane County’s Lake Mendota; what they found during a routine check-up on the lake in February took them by surprise.
“We discovered that, in fact, there was a ton of algae under the ice,” she said. “Because enough light could get through the ice to allow the algae to do its ‘photosynthesis thing,’ if you drilled a hole into the ice to measure its clarity, in February it was about the same as it is in the center of the lake now [in June].”
Furthermore, the algae growth led to a secondary change. Normally, Lake Mendota (and, presumably, lakes all around the state) will release a bit of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each spring — but this year, it actually took a bit back. Why?
“Bacteria will be chewing up their food, and, like us, producing CO2. So, normally, CO2 will build up in the lake water, and when the ice melts in the spring there’s usually a big release,” Stanley said. “[Algae] takes in C02. With the algae being there this winter, CO2 did not build up under the ice like it normally does. And when the lakes warmed up, instead of belching out CO2, it actually—briefly, for a moment—pulled in CO2 from the atmosphere.”
Stanley emphasized that such an occurrence is neither good nor bad. While slightly less carbon in the atmosphere is somewhat of a benefit to the global environment, algae in our lakes is not desirable.
Algal blooms make our once-clear waters look like Kermit the Frog skin, cause rashes and breathing problems, and even killed two dogs last year.
Unfortunately, the warm weather we’re currently enjoying in Wisconsin (or, for those without AC, suffering through) also helps it grow particularly well. To help see things from a climate perspective, Associate Scientist at the UW Center for Climatic Research Michael Notaro explains how gradual changes in climate over the past decade have shown a number of noticeable effects.
“Northern Wisconsin, until recently, had a severe drought where the lakes actually got to Dust Bowl levels,” Notaro said. “[In Wisconsin], we should have more frequent days without precipitation, but on the days where it does rain … it just dumps these heavy downpours of rain. So [it is considered] drought conditions because there are more days without any rain.”
Here in Wisconsin, we have seen warm springs that come earlier in the last several decades. What that means is, birds migrate back to the state sooner and lakes melt a few weeks earlier than they had been in the 1950s. Plants and crops are also apt to bloom too soon and be killed by a sudden frost before summer sets in, Notaro explained.
“You can start to have cold air outbreaks, or just cold nights, which is normal in April, and when that happens it does damage to the plants,” he said, adding that drought later on in the year can be just as hazardous. “What we’re having this summer, with about a third of an inch [of rain] in the last month, the corn crops are really dry; the soil is really dry. The soil in my garden is hard as rock.”
By the end of this century, trends show that Wisconsin will actually continue to get wetter on the whole—but since temperatures will also increase, more evaporation will take place. This would cause our soil to dry out even more, and lower lake levels.
Withered leaves, a favorite spring that has ceased to bubble, or your local dock that stands higher above the water than it once did, are some of the first visible signs that changes are taking place in our environment.
Data from the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey shows that, in places like Dane and Monroe counties, groundwater levels are historically low. Madeline Gotkowitz, a WGNHS hydrogeologist, says downward spikes in these levels can be attributed to lack of snowfall and snowmelt.
While low water levels do not necessarily mean that anyone’s well is going dry, many places in Wisconsin are well below normal as far as available groundwater resources. Gotkowitz said it is important to remember that just because water continues to flow out of the tap, doesn’t undermine the need to conserve water during drought conditions.
This winter we missed out on snowmen, sledding, ice fishing, and plenty of other things that make Wisconsin, well, Wisconsin. The summer so far continues to show some more interesting developments with which residents must cope. Being aware of changes in Wisconsin weather and climate helps us to better understand what is going on in other aspects of our state’s ecology year-round.
Written by Sarah Witman, communications intern
Last week we asked our fans on Facebook to share their photos and stories, to get a taste of where and how they enjoy the natural places our state. Here’s what they came up with: An abundance of truly gorgeous Wisconsin scenery captured on film (or, rather, in pixels). Don’t forget to “like” us and add your photos to the collection! (http://www.facebook.com/CleanWisconsin)
Photos submitted by Chris Wickingson, Danielle Bailey, Rebecca Smith-Stoltz, Tracy Caravella, Racquel M. Rocky, Dan Schley, Brian Busby, John F. Sullivan, Jean Mazzella, Jennifer Chapman-Lumby, Laura Spalinger, Karalee Hines, and Marcus Frazee.
A photo of the Flambeau mine near Ladysmith, Wisconsin, taken in 2007.
Cars, bikes, laptops, jewelry, forks, faucets, your dog’s water bowl. These ordinary object and more point to one conclusion: We all use metal. And why shouldn’t we? It’s a reusable resource, while plastic or paper goods are not. It can be melted down and recycled with relative ease. It is the cornerstone of modern civilization.
The problem, though, is how much the demand for metal — new metal, not reclaimed or recycled — continues to rise. To get it, more and more natural areas are being budged aside to unearth the ore underground. Mines are an unexpected visitor for ecosystems, and can disrupt the health of trees, streams and wildlife there.
Furthermore, these environmental effects trickle down to us — sometimes, in a big way.
When mining interacts directly with our natural environment, there can be impacts on our health, especially when it’s not done right. Keep in mind that mines have an impact long after they are no longer in operation, and need to be properly and consistently monitored to ensure our health and safety.
Although it varies among each mine, mining activities (from ore extraction to processing, handling, and transport) are commonly associated with public health problems in our air, soil and water:
- Air — Mining depends on equipment, generators and materials that generate hazardous air pollutants. The air becomes exposed to large amounts of sulfur dioxide, dust, and even heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium. Carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides can also be released during these processes.
- Soil — Toxic materials emitted into the air are eventually deposited in the soil, which will greatly affect plant quality.
- Water — Metals and other materials contaminate surface and groundwater. Sewage and other wastes in the places where mine workers live seep into waterways and contaminate small organisms. Tailings, or mining leftovers, must be diligently stored in a safe container that won’t overflow, to keep its harmful contents from seeping into drinking water. Accidents at a mine site can destroy water quality for generations.
Mining companies, or individuals living near a mine, might convince themselves that some of the side-effects aren’t really that bad in the long run. However, it’s important to think about our health as defined by the World Health Organization: A “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” And it doesn’t take a doctor to see that all of these effects on the environment translate to harm in our bodies.
Wisconsin is home to large deposits of iron. The direct effects of iron we can deal with: At its worst, iron will only cause discolored drinking water (according to the Wisconsin DNR). However, iron deposits do not contain purely iron. Other elements are commonly found in deposits of iron, such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, selenium, sulfur, titanium, and zinc. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that cadmium is known to cause kidney damage, copper causes liver and kidney damage with long term exposure and upset stomach with short term exposure. We also know that lead, another metal that can be exposed during mining, causes developmental disabilities and kidney problems. Plus, mining communities see increases in tuberculosis, asthma, chronic bronchitis and gastrointestinal diseases, says Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.
Wisconsin families are accustomed to legislators that make safety and health a priority: When a child’s toy is found to be unsafe, it’s recalled; if the local grocer is selling tuna or tomatoes contaminated with salmonella, they’re refunded. So why is it any different for mining laws?
A big reason stems from being able to prove that mines are the definite cause of these harms to our health. Symptoms and illnesses might not occur until long after the mine is operating, and if there is no incentive to consistently test the mine that connection will not be made. They could even seem coincidental or unrelated, since people can get sick from a multitude of invisible causes these days: Who’s to say it’s the mine? It can be difficult to link health problems back to the source.
When focusing on the profits or benefits of a mining project, it can also be easy to overlook or underestimate the health risks that come with it. But any of the individual health risks mentioned above, while not necessarily life-threatening on their own, do contribute to larger threats and irreversible sickness.
Understandably, it can be tempting to focus on the positives more than potential harms — it’s a glass-half-full type of scenario. But if that water is contaminated and can cause health problems, we’d rather look at a different glass.
Written by Sarah Witman, Communications intern. Laura Green contributed to this post.
Written by Sarah Witman, Communications Intern
Lawn watering is draining your pocketbook. Each year, 50 to 80 percent of what people spend on water during the summer goes toward lawn care, and all we have to show for it at the end of the day is an abundance of grass stains that need to be laundered out.
Let’s look at a few ways to do the earth, and ourselves, a big favor.
1. Water only when your lawn needs it. You’re off the hook from this chore if it has rained in the last week or if it is likely to rain in the coming days. At most, lawns need a deep watering (an inch) once a week, no more. They can actually survive on much less (a quarter of an inch per month). Lawn grasses need very little supplemental water to survive, and they turn brown naturally when they’re low on water. Brown grass is not dead grass, but brown grass does save water, energy, and the environment. Brown is green.
2. When you do water grass and plants, do it in the early morning instead of the middle of the day. The best time to water your lawn is before 8 a.m. During the day, you lose precious water to evaporation. And watering at night can lead to disease in your grass, because the water will sit stagnant on top of the grass for hours without drying. The added benefit of early morning watering is that demand on your community’s water supply is lower in the morning that in the evening. By the way, it’s best to mow in the evening, not the heat of the day.
3. Consider replacing some or all of your lawn with beautiful, natural landscaping. Xeriscaping refers to landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, mulch, landscaping rock, or other alternatives to the typical, all-grass lawn. Plants that are native to your area are typically suited to the natural rainfall — they shouldn’t require watering at all. Xeriscaping is relatively simple to do, it’s low maintenance, and is a great way to (cost-effectively) add variety, color and depth to your yard. Plus, it reduces the amount of lawn you need to water and fertilize (and mow!). Protecting our water resources is a huge added bonus.
Photo from USA Today
4. Use lake-safe fertilizers. There are plenty of things that go into a lawn that we don’t even think about: aeration, porosity, water retention, and even stress tolerance! Fertilizers that are healthful for the grass in your lawn are usually also the ones that are better for our lakes and our health.
Fertilizers made from compost or other organic wastes are a good option, but make sure you are not buying a supposed “organic” product that contains something called synthetic urea, which inhibits plant growth. No matter what you decide to use, make sure to follow the proper handling instructions.
5. Prepare for battle! Having a squirt gun or water balloon fight might be more fun than the first four tips, but it’s by no means a lesser method of water conservation. If you have kids (or a group of energetic friends), opt out of the sprinkler for a week and let one of these fun activities provide lasting hydration for your lawn.
As a nation, we use about 346,000 million gallons of fresh water each day. Following these tips is just one way Wisconsinites can help our rivers, lakes, and wetlands and all of the fish and wildlife that call them home. We can all do our part to reduce that number while dialing down the chore factor and dialing up the fun factor … and if you buy biodegradable water balloons (latex, not mylar) no cleanup is required!