MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican lawmakers put forth a new mining bill today, but they admit it is very similar to the one that failed in the Senate last March. They say it will lead to thousands of new jobs in Wisconsin.
Democrats say its too familiar, would allow too much destruction to the environment, and is so poorly put together it will never even result in a mine being established.
It is in the Penokee Hills of far northern Wisconsin, near Hurley, that mining company Gogebic Taconite wants to establish an open pit iron ore mine.
The new bill streamlines the permitting process for iron ore mining and exempts it from current state law.
"What it will do in its basics is (give) certainty for an applicant, that they're going to be able to get an answer. And also we're gonna uphold Wisconsin's high environmental standards," said Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), one of the bill's authors.
"Both Minnesota and Michigan have established separate mining laws for Taconite mining. These laws include realistic timelines, which our bill does as well," said Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), the Assembly Majority Leader who also co-authored the bill.
But Senator Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), who held a series of mining hearings last fall, says the bill is completely unrealistic, especially when it comes to the permitting timelines. Sen. Cullen says they are totally out of sync with the permitting requirements laid out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"480 days, that's completely unreasonable from the Corps' standpoint," said. Sen. Cullen. "Its unreasonable for anybody who's familiar with mining. Its unreasonable to the Wisconsin Mining Association."
Environmental groups are expressing concern that the bill allows the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to exempt a mining company from the state's water quality standards as well.
"Its still extreme, its still flawed, its still a one-sided bill that threatens to contaminate our water with pollutants like arsenic, lead and mercury," said Anne Sayers, spokesperson for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.
All of those concerns lead to the bigger question of whether the new bill can actually pass the Senate this time around. Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) was the deciding vote against the 2012 version.
"We have had a discussion in caucus and there were a number of legislators who had very strong concerns about lessening (environmental) standards," said Sen. Schultz. "What they're willing to settle for and how this bill shakes out, you know, those are questions that we have to answer as we do our work."
Sen. Cullen plans to introduce his own mining bill on Friday, in an attempt to push Republicans to compromise on what he feels would be a more reasonable bill.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said he doesn't plan on holding a vote on any mining bill until March.
MADISON (WKOW) -- State Republican lawmakers introduced a 206 page mining bill Wednesday morning which would create an expedited permitting process for iron mining and exempt it from Wisconsin's current metallic mining laws.
Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), the Assembly Majority Leader, introduced the bill at a news conference with a number of other Republicans and two people who live in the Hurley area.
Hurley is just south of Lake Superior and is where Gogebic Taconite, a Florida-based mining company, established an office in 2011.
Gogebic Taconite wanted to establish an iron ore mine in that area last year, but a bill that would have expedited their permitting process failed in the State Senate 17-16.
Sen. Tiffany and Rep. Suder say this new bill is very similar to that previous bill that failed, with some technical changes. They also say Gogebic Taconite is still interested in pursuing a mine to the area. Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) says such a mine will bring thousands of jobs to every part of the state.
However, Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), who formed a Senate Select Committee on Mining and held hearings in Fall of 2012, told reporters this bill is not realistic, because the timelines established in it will conflict with federal standards. He also expressed concern the bill allows the DNR to grant exemptions to current environmental standards.
Sen. Cullen plans to introduce his own mining bill on Friday.
Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have live reports on the new mining bill on 27 News at 5 and 6.
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