Chris Cline, the billionaire behind the taconite mine battle in Wisconsin, has been getting some ink for his fight against the tribes who oppose the project.
Forbes has weighed in on the attempts of his company, Foresight Energy, to cajole, coerce and yes, even threaten those who oppose it, which include the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians. They are fighting the open pit mine proposed in the Bad River watershed just six miles from the band’s reservation in the Penokee Hills proposed by Cline's company Gogebic Taconite.
“The Chippewa are naturally concerned about pollution and environmental destruction that the mine could bring to the Bad River watershed, which is six miles from their reservation, which borders Lake Superior,” Forbes columnist Christopher Helman wrote on September 9. He is not the first to profile a billionaire investor trying to mine the way of life out from underneath those who live off the land. Last year, Fortune wrote about Seth Klarman, who lost his bid to build a mega-quarry in bucolic Melancthon, Ontario, Canada. He heads the Baupost Group, a $24 billion hedge fund based in Boston.
Helman mentions a USA Today story that also ran over the weekend, which notes that the outcome of this fight has implications for similar conflicts around the country. In Washington, California, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and New York, among other states, academics and policymakers are watching.
"[They] are looking to see how low environmental standards will go for open pit mining," said Jenny Kehl, director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Water Policy at the School of Freshwater Sciences, to USA Today. "The precedent will spread to other states and to the mining of other minerals, which will further jeopardize water resources across the country.”
Though Helman doesn’t weigh in with an opinion on Cline, he notes that the region has been mined for iron ore before. Then he cuts to Cline's prowess with coal-reserve purchases in the Illinois Basin in the early 1990s, back when everyone else was afraid of repercussions from the then newly amended Clean Air Act.
“Cline saw that America’s coal-fired power plants were being upgraded with 'scrubbers' and other pollution control technology to remove the sulfur from plant emissions,” the Forbes columnist wrote. “In time those plant owners would realize that they could buy high-sulfur coal at a big discount, and still keep emissions low. So Cline started buying Illinois Basin coal, acquiring mines from the likes of U.S. Steel and Exxon.”
Cline, he said, will have the last laugh when his coal, which costs about half as much to extract as coal in Mississippi and other states, comes due.
“Being the cheapest ton on the market means that even with the Obama administration and Environmental Protection Agency siding with the Sierra Club in a war on coal, Cline’s mines will probably end up being the last ones standing,” Helman wrote, making his vantage point clear.
Read Billionaire Battles Native Americans Over Iron Ore Mine in Forbes.
ICTMN has extensively covered Cline and his taconite mine war in Wisconsin.
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