On Croutons, Buicks and Taconite

Published in The La Crosse Tribune on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 with the headline, “Scars from mining will never go away.” A link to the essay is provided below.

Crouton and Shred Division. That’s the wording of a sign that once graced the Sara Lee facility at 4th and Cass streets in La Crosse. If a red light stopped me there I could look up and imagine the transition bread took from bagged on a grocery shelf to thrift store to being rent into croutons and crumbs before it returned, bagged again, to a grocery near me.

That sign had some honesty, one that now seems to have disappeared until it pops up in the oddest places. Like him or not, when former GOP hopeful Rick Perry said, “Oops,” after failing to remember The Department of Energy. I had to admire the guy for his instant-case honesty. And remember BP’s hapless Tony Hayward telling us he wanted his life back while BP’s uncapped well spewed death into the Gulf. That was oops but honest too.

My all-time favorite is this GM advertising slogan from the 1950s: When Better Cars Are Built, Buick Will Build Them. That slogan was so honest it turned out to be prophetic. It carried a meaning GM never intended. It implied that Buick wouldn’t build better cars until somebody else did. Enter the better-built Japanese imports and today, Ta Da!, Buick is building better cars in order to compete.

Buick builds them, in part, from steel derived from taconite. And with taconite, specifically the taconite that Gogebic Taconite LLC wants to take from the Penokee range near Hurley, what we need now is a little honesty.

The quick and dirty take on the debate now raging in Madison over Gogebic Taconite’s application to mine in northwest Wisconsin is this: Gogebic, local officials and the Republican-controlled state legislature all want to fast track a mining permit by circumventing certain pesky federal and state regulations.

They’re opposed by a group of concerned local citizens, environmentalists who include the Sierra Club in their numbers and the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior and Bad River Band of Lake Superior, Native Americans who fear, like the others, that a way of life unique to the region will be destroyed.

Polarization is what we’re talking about here. Nevertheless, the search for honesty leads first to Gogebic Taconite’s website where its president, Bill Williams, appears in a blue-collar shirt and looking friendly next to a statement about the company’s plans for “this important ore deposit.” In the public relations game the photo and statement are known as boiler plate, meaningless spin crafted by a public relations team that knows all the buttons, how to push them and what effect the pushing has. The search continues.

One Sierra Club news release I’ve seen says the proposed mine will be 4.5 by 1/3 miles and 900 feet deep. Another release has it at 22 miles long. The spin on web sources like those includes photos of lush trees and crystalline waters alongside dire warnings about negative environmental impacts.

When faced with issues like this I invariably turn to Aldo Leopold’s observation that there are those of us who can live without wild things and those of us who cannot. That is, perhaps, the only instance where I believe Leopold is wrong with respect to present day reality. None of us are better off without wild things, especially in the 21st century.

Faced with issues cloaking Gogebic Taconite LLC I turn also to our farm here in Crawford County where, for 11 years, no pesticides or herbicides save those approved for certified organic farming have been spread anywhere. The land is the same but the look and feel of it has changed dramatically. We now have nesting pairs of bald eagles where we observed none before. Frogs and toads may have vanished elsewhere but they’re here in profusion.

There is one spot, however, where previous owners cut a shale pit into a hillside. That scar remains. It is doggedly persistent. When I consider honesty and Gogebic Taconite’s proposal for mining in the Penokee Range I think first of the Earth and that shale pit and wonder whether 700 here today and gone tomorrow jobs are honestly worth the scars they will leave in their wake forever.

Link to the essay in The La Crosse Tribune:

http://lacrossetribune.com/news/opinion/karl-garson-scars-from-mining-will-never-go-away/article_00192dba-460d-11e1-87c8-0019bb2963f4.html

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