New iron mine bill, or two, likely when Legislature reconvenesWith the memory of a bitter, down-to-the-wire battle on failed Wisconsin mining legislation still fresh from the last legislative session, lobbyists and politicians on both sides of the issue are back at work, shaping new proposals to streamline iron mine permitting.
By: By Ron Seely, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
With the memory of a bitter, down-to-the-wire battle on failed Wisconsin mining legislation still fresh from the last legislative session, lobbyists and politicians on both sides of the issue are back at work, shaping new proposals to streamline iron mine permitting.
Everybody agrees that the introduction of another bill aimed at simplifying mine permitting is likely in January when the state Legislature reconvenes. But some also say that, with Republicans and Democrats already following parallel but different routes to such legislation, another messy fight may be in the offing.
"I would not be surprised if there were two bills rather than one," said George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a close observer of the efforts. Meyer's organization opposed last session's mining bill because of provisions that he said weakened environmental protections.
That bill, which would have paved the way for the mining company Gogebic Taconite to build a $1.5-billion open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin's Penokee Range, failed at the last moment but only because state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, broke ranks with his party to vote with Democrats and defeat the bill. Schultz also took issue with provisions in the bill that he said weakened environmental protections. Gogebic axed its plans for a mine in the state after the vote and has since indicated it is looking at sites in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Now, two separate efforts are underway to perhaps begin shaping another version of the mining bill. State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Mining, is convening a series of informational hearings on Wisconsin mining laws. The first is scheduled for Tuesday at the state Capitol and will feature presentations by the Wisconsin Geological Survey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources.
Cullen said last session's debate was clouded by both the recall elections and the pressure to pass a bill that would satisfy Gogebic Taconite. Without those influences, he said, it may be possible to have a more productive discussion.
"I think compromise is possible," Cullen said. "But I think it will only occur because of a meaningful and useful education session."
Cullen also acknowledged that compromise will be difficult for some. "There is an element in this state that says no mining at all," Cullen said, "and there is a strong element that says let's go tomorrow."
Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has also initiated his own effort to bring the mining issue back to the state Legislature. He has appointed Tim Sullivan, former chief executive officer of Bucyrus International, a Milwaukee manufacturer of mining equipment, to examine Wisconsin mining laws and learn about mine permitting in other states. That study, being conducted by an international mining consultant, may lead to a state panel that would draw up a new mining bill.
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