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Bad River tribe not taking wait and see stance on possible mining bills

Efforts to resurrect legislation to streamline permitting for iron ore mining may be on the back burner, but a leading opponent is moving ahead as if the fight was still front and center.

Last week's failed recall of Gov. Scott Walker has Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins thinking efforts to fast-track legislation of an iron ore mine aren't far off.

"Yeah, I'd have to say I'm concerned," he said. "The same threats haven't changed. The players might change, even the governorship could have changed, but the actual threats to the environment, the actual things that we have stood opposed to are still the same."

Wiggins and his people's reservation on Lake Superior near Ashland is downstream of the proposed Penokee iron ore mine. He says an open pit mine would pollute both the air and water, so they're obligated to protect their environment.

"We've never stopped preparing and trying to strengthen our position to protect ourselves. So, everyday it's been business as usual, regardless of the recall or anything like that," Wiggins said.

Bad River may soon have another important piece in its arsenal. Last year, they received class one status from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set their own water standards.

Since then, they've applied for the same rights for air quality standards. So air and water could come from a Penokee iron ore mine to the nearby reservation in Odanah. If it exceeds tribal and EPA standards, then the mining permit would be denied. Wiggins hopes that'll force science into future debate.

"To drive it on political rhetoric and false, private corporate-driven numbers and economic discussion is a disservice to everybody, especially us who are going to eat and breathe that stuff," Wiggins said.

There are no plans for a special session on iron ore legislation. An Assembly bill was not passed in the last session this year, but sent back to committee after the State Senate rejected the bill 17 to 16 in March. Immediately after the vote, Gogebic Taconite of Hurley said they were no longer interested in building a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in the Penokees.

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