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New iron ore mining bill planned for Wisconsin

The chairman of the Senate mining committee is scrapping the one-year time limit touted by Republicans.

The Assembly Republican bill was withdrawn last March when it was clear it didn't have enough Senate votes. With that, mining company Gogebic Taconite pulled its proposal for a $1.5 billion mine in the Penokee Range of northern Wisconsin.

Now Senate Mining Committee Chairman Tim Cullen says his committee will craft what he calls a more realistic iron ore mining bill without that one-year timeline.

"If we want to pass a law that has any meaning, it's out the window," Cullen said in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio. "It is absolutely impossible for the DNR to do all of its work, all the environmental assessments that are necessary, the environmental impact statement, to make a decision in those kinds of timeframes."

Cullen said the timeline would fly in the face of a multi-year process by federal agencies, which also must approve an iron ore mining permit. The new proposed legislation also would send more mining tax revenue to mining communities.

"There's a strong effort to keep a lot of it in Madison, and I'm going to have some local officials talk about it," Cullen said. "It's essential that most of the money from the mining company stay in the area of the mine."

While the Assembly bill allowed for waterways to be filled in a mining area, Cullen said that's flat-out unconstitutional.

"The Public Trust Doctrine in the (state) constitution, wording in the constitution is that the waters of Wisconsin shall forever be free," he said. "They don't belong to individuals who live along a lake or a river. They don't belong to any company."

He hopes to have a bill written with both political parties participating. He also intends on holding a public hearing in northern Wisconsin, but isn't sure it'll be in the Ashland and Iron counties area of the Penokee Range.

Cullen's goal is to have the committee pass new mining legislation before Dec. 15.

Wisconsin Public Radio is heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and online at