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Senate mining committee to move fast on new bill

A senate committee on mining has been resurrected by the majority Democrats, four months after Republicans dismissed that same committee. Democrats intend to have a new iron ore mining bill proposed by the end of this year.

Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville will chair the Senate Select Committee on Mining. He says they're already planning how to proceed.

"One of the best days in my legislative career was the day I spent up looking at the Penokee Hills, talking to the people in Mellen last February. It made a deep impression on me. The message from the people of Mellen was, they wanted mining but they did not want their environment destroyed. If they can get it done and have a bill that protects the environment and does create the jobs, that's our goal."

Cullen expects their first meeting to be in two to three weeks. He also says they'll hold public listening sessions involving all the players from the tribes to Gogebic Taconite, which proposed to spend $1.5 billion to build an iron ore mine in the Penokees.

But Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Environmental Policy Director Scott Manley says unless they go with the Republican-backed Assembly bill, this new committee is wasting its time.

"Any effort to water that bill down could scuttle that entire project. So from our perspective, it's premature at this time to be talking about any legislation other than Assembly Bill 426."

Committee Vice-Chairman Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, represents the Penokee region. He says WMC won't stop a new mining bill, and that they'll hold public meetings in shaping a streamlined mining bill.

"Contrasting with the Republicans and WMC approach to secretly pushing a bill through that serves only the mining company and not the public interest. We will have an open and deliberative discussion and I'm convinced a constructive result."

Jauch and Cullen say they'll explore iron ore mining legislation already in place in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, WMC's Manley says their priority is on getting a Republican-controlled majority elected in the Senate this November.