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Tribal leaders to ask EPA to halt mining efforts in northern Wisconsin

Tribal leaders meeting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today and Thursday will ask the agency to halt mining activity in the Penokee Hills of Ashland and Iron counties.

Led by northern Wisconsin’s Chippewa Federation of Tribes, leaders will argue that the EPA must use a section of the Clean Water Act to intervene and preserve the pristine waters of Lake Superior.

The company Gogebic Taconite is proposing to build the largest open-pit iron ore mine in North America in an area where waters flow into Lake Superior. The provision of the Clean Water Act tribes are asking the EPA to use would stop drilling and data collection by Gogebic Taconite, known as GTAC, until federal regulators decide if the mine would do irreparable damage to the area.

Tom Maulson, president of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said tribal leaders are going into the meetings with their eyes wide open.

“Can we trust the federal government in their endeavors to do things right for us? Probably not,” Maulson said. “They haven’t lived up to their bargain with American Indians back then. What makes them think they’re going to live up to them now?”

But Maulson said their mistrust of the state government is even greater. He said Wisconsin has passed laws favorable to GTAC and ignored nearby tribes, even to the point of passing a law declaring part of the proposed mining area off-limits to the public.

“That’s in the ceded territory,” he said. “Maybe we need to sue GTAC or maybe we need to sue the state of Wisconsin in our endeavors to get on that piece of property, because we’re not going to do any damage to it. The tribes are not going to mine it.”

Earlier this year the EPA used a section of the Clean Water Act to suspend mining activity at the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska because it threatened the waters of Bristol Bay. That decision remains under review.

WJFW-TV reported that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said earlier this summer that he wouldn’t oppose EPA involvement in the Gogebic Taconite mine permitting process — if the agency’s involvement is science-based and isn’t political.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at