Consensus builds to competing mining billMADISON – The state’s mining permit approval process could be shorten to 3½ years under recommendations advanced Thursday by the Senate Select Mining Committee.
By: By Kevin Murphy/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
MADISON – The state’s mining permit approval process could be shorten to 3½ years under recommendations advanced Thursday by the Senate Select Mining Committee.
After 20 hours of testimony during four hearings this fall, the committee met again to reach a consensus on what to include in a bill to attract mining investment by streamlining the approval process while also protecting the environment and public input.
State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, committee chair, took no votes Thursday but wants a bill drafted and introduced by the Jan. 7 start of the new legislative year.
Cullen said he fully expects the Democrat-controlled committee’s bill to compete against a dusted-off version of Republican-favored Assembly Bill 426 that came within one vote of approval in March.
“When you have two bills, the process combines parts of both into one. This bill doesn’t lend itself to that. The tenor and direction of the two bills are extremely different. Once you have the two bills side-by-side people will see the difficulty in combining them,” he told the committee.
State Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, called the committee experience “unique” in that it attempted to take the emotion out of the polarizing issue mining has become since Gogebic Taconite announced two years ago that to attract investment the state needed to provide certainty in its mining regulations.
Republican attendance and participation in the committee has dwindled to only State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, and State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center showed up Thursday.
Lazich told the committee that current state regulations amount to a “mining moratorium” and praised AB426 as a solution. During a recess she agreed the committee’s attempt to reach a consensus Thursday was an exercise in futility.
“What I favored in the last session was getting the process going so the mine could start … Granted it will take them some time to put a shovel in the ground and then all the wonderful jobs will be created. But what we’ve done is drag our feet and we’re a year or two behind from where we’d be if we acted last session,” Lazich said
Cutting one year from the approval process can be achieved by eliminating the environmental impact statement and contested case hearing from the prospecting stage, said Jauch.
The EIS would come later in the process and a mining firm would still need to obtain boring permits to locate iron ore deposits. GTac, the firm that proposed a $1.5 billion mine in Ashland and Iron counties took out boring permits but didn’t use them, Jauch said.
A mining company would have to let a year lapse between the time it files a notice of intent to mine and applying for a mine construction permit. The time would encourage company involvement with the Department of Natural Resources, and federal agencies plus allows time to consult with Native American tribes regarding the impact on the resources they are entitled to access in ceded territories, said Schultz.
The DNR would work with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Corps of Engineers and the tribes but take the lead in dealing with the mining applicant.
Once the DNR deems the information in the construction application is complete, it would have two years to issue a decision. During that time, the DNR would be allowed a six-month pause to deal with new information or unintended complexities that could arise.
The recommendations also allow the applicant, DNR and federal agencies to work out a different plan, said Jauch.
“That’s how most probably would get done. Something always comes up during the process and things don’t go according to Hoyle. This allows them to get it right. In the end that’s want the applicant wants,” he said.
Once the decision is issued a citizen or group could request a contested case hearing challenging a portion or all of the DNR’s decision. The burden would be on the DNR to prove its decision complies with state and federal regulations.
Tax revenue from mining activity would be generated from the current tax on net profits to a gross tonnage tax. Local governments directly impacted would receive 70 percent of the revenue and 30 percent would go to a regional economic development council for distribution to local governments within 100 miles of a mining site.
The applicant would pay a $100,000 local impact fee that would be disbursed by a state board to affected communities once mining commences.