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Mining bill introduced, tribal leader says mining legislation talk needs to start over
Majority Republicans have introduced a rewrite of Wisconsin's mining laws that largely resembles a bill that failed in the State Senate last year. Shawn Johnson reports from Madison.
The bill includes many of the changes to environmental law that critics blasted last time around. It would give a mining company more freedom to rearrange the landscape of an open pit mine like the one being eyed in the Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin.
Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany told reporters the goal is to bring mining jobs to Iron and Ashland Counties and manufacturing jobs to southeastern Wisconsin.
"This gives us the opportunity to rejuvenate manufacturing here in the State of Wisconsin."
The plan would require the Department of Natural Resources to make a decision on a mining permit within 420 days. South Milwaukee Republican Mark Honadel said the state would benefit almost immediately.
"In the first couple years, there's a lot of what we'd call preliminary work. But after two years, after the permitting process and after the exploratory process, we get going with a nice iron mine in the Northwoods."
But Janesville Democratic Senator Tim Cullen, who chaired a study committee on mining this summer, said that flew in the face of testimony from multiple experts, including the Army Corps of Engineers. He said Republicans weren't telling the full story on their bill.
"There's a significant reality of the Penokee Hills that wasn't mentioned here today. God put an enormous amount of water in the Penokee Hills. I'm not going to second-guess his decision."
Cullen says the GOP bill would let a mining company deposit mining waste in those waters.
"That's a clear constitutional test. They talked about jobs. The likely jobs that will be created in the next few years will be for lawyers."
Cullen says he'll introduce his own mining bill later this week that makes no changes to environmental laws.
The Republican-backed mining bill has one tribal leader frustrated because he says it ignores environmental consequences. Mike Simonson reports.
Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins says the time for politics is over. He says legislators are missing the big picture.
"I've seen the overblown figures for jobs just grow and grow with no factual basis. Okay, I get that. That can just keep getting bigger and bigger. Let's talk about the true industrialization environmental footprint."
Bad River is downstream from a proposed $1.5 billion iron ore mine in the Penokees. Wiggins says even so, this is not a Native-only issue.
"Forget about the tribes right now. Wisconsin in general deserves some dialogue about what these things really do to the groundwater aquifers, to the waters, to the natural resources, to the wild rice and waterways. There's a tremendous price to pay and that's not even looking at the type of the state-subsidized infrastructure that accompany those types of giveaways."
Wiggins says ultimately, they may have to use federal mining regulations to counter the state legislation.
Democratic State Senator Bob Jauch of Poplar says the new Republican iron ore mining bill is the same old song. And he says it’s an “invitation for litigation” which could tie up a mining permit in the courts for years. He says the only job creation from this legislation would be for attorneys.
Jauch, who was on the Mining Committee when Democrats controlled the Senate last fall, says the new Republican majority might still be cracked if they can get one more Republican besides Senator Dale Schultz to oppose this bill.
The Democratic committee’s bill will be introduced on Friday.
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