HOLY MOLEY! Joni Mitchell was right: We really don't know what we've got 'til it's gone. | WisCommunity

HOLY MOLEY! Joni Mitchell was right: We really don't know what we've got 'til it's gone.

Gigantic factory farms, ultrahuge mines and industrial complexes now impinge ever closer upon the citizens of this state and country. As an increasing number of spills and polluting discharges strongly suggest, we had better as a nation start thinking twice about the mess we're allowing big business to make right in our own backyards.

The state Department of Natural Resources scientists and engineers produced an internal report, leaked this week, saying iron mining in northern Wisconsin presents numerous potential threats to human health, the environment and waters embracing numerous human communities, wildlife, northland forests, critical wetland bogs and hitherto pristine Lake Superior

Gogebic Taconite, the firm planning the mine, said the DNR report represents "fearmongering." What? A state agency charged with reviewing the environmental impacts of the giant mine is guilty of "fearmongering" by listing, in an internal report, the known problems with such mines? What other job does the DNR have besides watchdogging the state's environment and listing such issues? Oh, right: The agency, run like a mini-Commerce Department since Scott Walker's arrival, is supposed to mainly concern itself with being business-friendly now, regardless of the possible consequences.

But the mine -- which, if approved, would demolish a large swatch of the lovely Penokee Hills region -- is only one of many cautionary tales that citizens increasingly seem to be taking to heart.

Today, a significant chemical spill all but shut down Charleston, the state capitol of West Virginia. A coal processing plant dumped poison into the nearby Elk River, and 300,000 residents of the area have been told to avoid using tap water for drinking, cooking or washing, lest they begin vomiting uncontrollably.

Businesses and schools closed their doors and the state legislature shut down as the National Guard mobilized to provide bottled water to stranded residents in nine affected counties. Thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a toxic foaming agent, reportedly leaked from a tank near the river. The state's environmental agency said it was not known (huh?!) how long the chemical had been leaking but swallowing it or inhaling it would be harmful. Residents who could manage it were evacuating the region; bottled water supplies in area stores will only last a day or two without emergency provisions.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency joined the state in declaring a disaster and mobilized to provide aid to residents of the region. We can just hear conservatives in their moans: Oh, that intrusive, spendthrift federal government again! Tsk-tsk.

One company. One spill. Three hundred thousand potential victims and a temporarily savaged regional economy. Ironically, the coal firm is named "Freedom Industries." If you say so, guys!

Of course, West Virginia's natural landscape already has long since been raped by a bevy of coal mining concerns. Entire mountain ranges have been crew-cut by these operations, ruining what was once one of the nation's most beautiful regions. And nearly all the toxic tailings from these strip-mining techniques have over decades been allowed to slide down the mountainsides into the "hollows" where most of the workers and their families live. No wonder health is a big issue in rural West Virginia, where you will still also find many working poor people with relatively few public resources. And now, overnight, King Coal has become a big environmental issue in the state's most urbanized area.

The overriding issue with Freedom Industries is this: How could such a large coal-processing plant have gained permission to locate such a dangerous operation along a major river that provides drinking water to hundreds of thousands? Might want to ask state legislators in West Virginia about that, even while we're asking our own legislators here in Wisconsin what the hell they were thinking in fast-tracking operations like the Gogebic mine, despite vast evidence that similar mines in other states have led to serious environmental problems.

And then there's the frac-sand mining controversy that's stirring up locals along the Mississippi Valley and in the central sands region of Wisconsin. More dangerous mining that portends other health risks while digging away the very scenic beauty that brings tourists to the region.

Joni Mitchell said it best: You don't know what you got 'til it's gone.


January 10, 2014 - 2:57pm