To Marathon County Board of Supervisors:
I am writing in support of the resolution, titled: RESOLUTION TO CALL FOR LEGISLATIVE ACTION TO
PROTECT MARATHON COUNTY FROM THE IMPACTS OF METALLIC SULFIDE EXPLORATION AND MINING.
I currently live in Madison, Wisconsin and am a Political Scientist, specializing in federalism and
intergovernmental relationships. But I spent much of my early life living in Colby, Wisconsin in Marathon
County and still have extended family living all around the county. I know many farmers and small
business owners who live in the area around Spencer, Stratford, Abbotsford, and Wausau; it is a diverse
and rich place, with many opportunities as well as challenges which would be strongly impacted by the
presence of sulfide mining in the area. I will address my comments from both perspectives- as a former
resident and as a political scientist.
The points made in the resolution are well-thought out and valid. The potential risks of siting a sulfide
mine in a water-rich county like Marathon is profound given the almost certainty of acid mine drainage
seeping into and contaminating the ground and surface water which the population and many farms are
dependent on for sustenance and the basis of economic survival. The short-terms benefits accruing to
the county during the few years a sulfide mine would operate could never be worth the environmental
damage which would take generations to repair. It could never be worth the risk.
As a Political Scientist, I recognize that county government is constrained by the state preemption
clauses written into Act 134, passed in 2017, when it comes to regulating non-metallic sulfide mines.
This feature of Act 134 was by design.
Act 134 was designed to weaken existing state environmental regulations to the point that small sulfide
mines could still be profitable even if only operating for a few years. The legislators who supported the
bill asserted that the environment could still be protected, despite weakening regulations because
mining technology have advanced to the point that they can chemically process minerals from low grade
ore without risks to the environment. Unfortunately, the empirical evidence suggests that the toxicity
resulting from a sulfide mine operation dispels that assertion. Moreover, the removal of the mining
moratorium, the “Prove it First” provision in previous mining laws meant that those previous
protections against mining companies as “bad actors” were no longer in place.
But the worst provisions of Act 134 were the preemption clauses that imposed a “ceiling” of
environmental regulation on local and county governments. That is, that any county or local government
that passed a moratorium on sulfide mining or passed protective environmental regulations that were
considered more stringent than state standards were at risk for being nullified.
I am sure that as responsible county administrators, the restrictions imposed on the county by Act 134
invites caution even though the inability to fully protect the environment, under existing state
regulations, is glaringly evident. Moreover, the dysfunction and the politicization of state bodies like the
Natural Resources Board prevent necessary regulation from being put into policy. The failure to affirm
the stronger regulation needed to address PFAS contamination is an example of that failure. Yet, the
cost of litigation to challenge the preemptions is also prohibiting. Even seeing the dangers of siting a
sulfide mine, the county is effectively hamstrung because of these preemptory state laws, an example of
what is now being called “coercive federalism”.
Affirming this resolution as an advisory to the state is a good first step in asking for a revision in a state
law that prevents county and local governments from responding to their citizens and from exercising
their own dictates to protect the health and well-being of the citizens and their environment.
There are some promising federal recent court decisions which that upheld the concept of “home rule”
and the importance of local decision-making, not only because it enables administers to be responsive
to their citizens, but because it allows a county to use innovative practices. There are numbers of think
tanks and law firms who are developing resources and guideline to help local and county governments
challenge state preemptive laws when the result would be good policy.
Further, partnering with the tribes whose trust land is adjacent to Marathon County and the Ojibwe
tribes who ceded territory, part of which is now Marathon County, in 19th century treaties will bring
federal support to county initiatives. The co-management of resources in the ceded territories was
mandated by the Voigt Decision and is not subject to state preemption laws but is rooted in federal trust
If requested, I can provide more detailed information to how different counties and local governments
have been working to regain some autonomy when faced with state preemption laws. But, please know
that it is possible.
I urge you to ratify this resolution to protect the citizens and the environment of Marathon County and
to begin a much-needed convers. on with state legislators about how to collaboratively pass meaningful
mining policy that works for the public as well as the industries.
Thank you for your attention.