Cancer and the growth of Wisconsin’s economy

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal on Saturday, February 4, 2012, under  the headline, “Don’t ignore the malignancies of economic growth.” A link to the essay is provided below.

Cancer and economies depend on growth. The dominant belief is that the growth of one is bad while the other is good. With respect to cancer, who could argue? On the other hand, some benefits of economic growth in Wisconsin are questionable.

Here are three quotes that speak to questions surrounding economic growth in the Badger State. The first is from Gary Kramer, CEO of Badger State Ethanol near Monroe, while pointing out that 200 trucks visit his facility every day of the week. “That generates jobs as well.” No doubt about it, 200 trucks visiting a plant that operates pretty much round the clock generates jobs. Multiply that consideration by the nine ethanol plants operating in the state and arrive at a lot more trucks sucking tank cars of fuel and spewing tons of emissions in support of the state’s ethanol industry.

The second quote comes from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recent state of the State address. “There is another tremendous opportunity for job growth. We can pass legislation that will streamline the process for safe and environmentally sound mining.”

Walker is speaking to the debate surrounding the permitting process for a taconite mine near Hurley that will create 700 jobs while the mine is operating.

Jay Alston, CEO of Hi-Crush Proppants, the company operating a frac sand mine near Wyeville, offers the third quote. “It is a substantial impact. This should be good for Wisconsin’s economy.” Alston is speaking of the $100,000 annual contribution to the local economy made by his mine’s 43 workers. There are 60 frac sand mining operations dotting western Wisconsin and 20 more are proposed. The math, when all are operating, discloses 3,000 workers, plus or minus, adding $8 million to local economies, or a near-negligible less than a third of a percent of Wisconsin’s GDP.

Left to stand alone those quotes lead to the belief that Wisconsin’s ethanol and mining industries are positive contributors to state’s economy. There are, after all, the drivers of the trucks, the sand miners and the future taconite miners all employed or soon to be employed, contributing to themselves, their families and the local and state economies.

However, overarching concerns attached to these economic factors should be addressed. On the proliferation of frac sand mining operations in western Wisconsin Democratic State Senator Kathleen Vinehout of Alma said recently, “The state is woefully unprepared for this. We’re regulating sand mines like we regulate gravel pits. There’s a big difference between a one acre gravel pit and a 900-acre sand mine.”

That difference is more than 899 acres. The greater concern is over whether Wisconsin wants to be seen as a prime contributor to a form of energy extraction that has been exempted from compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act. Does the state want to abet yet another destroy-as-you-grow activity operating at the Earth’s expense? Should an at-any-cost addition to Wisconsin’s economy come at the expense of the quality of life not only for us but for the rest of the country?

Only a tree-hugger would ask questions like that. I’ll brush pieces of bark off my sweater while agreeing. Nevertheless, we should all be asking these questions.

The Gary Kramer’s of our world will never disclose the fuel consumption and pollution connected to all those trucks shuttling to the state’s ethanol plants. But we should ask.

Republican Governor Scott Walker may point out that the Republican controlled Wisconsin Legislature can pass laws providing for safe and environmentally sound mining. It’s up to us to say that, yes, that can happen but the likelihood of it actually happening is south of zero.

Hi-Crush Proppants will always point to its payroll positives. But it will never suggest that we Google “fracking clean water act” to decide for ourselves.

That too is up to us. That’s what we should be up to now, not only in Wisconsin but throughout the Upper Midwest, before we find that we have spread malignancy over the Earth under the guise of enriching ourselves.

Link to the essay in the Wisconsin State Journal:


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