Wisconsin Senate stops short on mining voteSenate Republicans stopped short of voting Tuesday on a contentious bill that would streamline mining regulations to help a Florida company open a huge iron mine in Wisconsin's north woods after they failed to muster enough support.
By: Todd Richmond, Associated Press, Superior Telegram
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Senate Republicans stopped short of voting Tuesday on a contentious bill that would streamline mining regulations to help a Florida company open a huge iron mine in Wisconsin's north woods after they failed to muster enough support.
Republicans hold a 17-16 majority in the Senate and need everyone in their caucus to support the measure. But Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican from Richland Center, has vowed to vote against it, saying it makes challenging state regulators' permitting decisions too difficult and jeopardizes the environment.
Republican leaders have spent the last week trying to come up with a compromise to get Schultz on board. But Schultz hasn't budged. Republicans put the bill on the Senate's calendar Tuesday anyway, sparking speculation that they had convinced a Democrat to switch sides and support the bill.
But when the GOP opened the floor debate by trying to add a host of provisions to the bill designed to appease Schultz, the attempt failed 17-16 with Schultz and all 16 Democrats presenting a united front. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald then pulled the bill off the calendar.
The measure's fate now looks even murkier. The legislative session ends next week. Republican leaders could bring lawmakers back in an extra session to consider the bill, but unless Schultz or a Democrat stands down it still won't go anywhere.
The measure is designed to help Florida-based Gogebic Taconite open a huge open-pit mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior. The company has promised the mine will create hundreds of jobs for economically depressed northwestern Wisconsin and boost the state's mining equipment manufacturing sector.
But the company has put its plans on hold until they get a guarantee from lawmakers of a clear stopping point in the state's open-ended mine permitting process. Republicans eager to deliver on job-creation promises have spent most of the last year developing legislation for the company.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, have rallied against the mine. They warn it will pollute one of the most pristine areas left in the state. A fierce debate over how to best balance jobs and the environment has ensued.
Assembly Republicans passed a bill in January that would dramatically overhaul the state's mining regulations. The measure would require the state Department of Natural Resources to make a permit decision within a year of receiving an application. It also would eliminate contested case hearings, quasi-judicial proceedings the public can use to challenge decisions leading up to final approval.
The amendment Senate Republicans tried to attach to the measure would have extended the approval deadline to 480 days and allowed contested case hearings after a permit has been issued. The changes were meant to appease Schultz or bring a Democrat into the GOP fold, but the move didn't work.
Schultz told senators the bill is full of "squishy" language that weakens environmental standards. He said those new, weaker standards could come into play in his southwestern Wisconsin district if mining comes to that area. He also complained allowing contested case hearings after permit approval process, when a mine might already be under construction, puts too much of a burden on the public.
"Today is not the day for this compromise," Schultz said. "The people of this state have said over and over again, loudly and clearly, they're not against mining but they want it done in an environmentally safe and sustainable way."