The state Senate has approved a Republican bill that would dramatically overhaul Wisconsin's mining regulations.
The measure is designed to ease the regulatory path for Gogebic Taconite's plans for a huge iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior.
The GOP contends the mine would create hundreds of jobs. Minority Democrats counter the bill would relax environmental protections and open the door to pollution that would devastate the pristine region.
The Republican-controlled Senate approved the bill 17-16 Wednesday after nearly nine hours of debate.
Democrats said they are disappointed but not shocked that the bill passed because they knew early on they didn't have the votes to stop it.
Republicans defended their bill and the process used to pass it all day as well as afterward to reporters.
"It was deliberative. We've been here for two years debating this issue. The product that you see at the end here, the amended SB 1, really reflects the values of the state of Wisconsin. I mean, there were significant changes made in this bill from when it first came out," said Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst.
Republican Sen. Dale Schultz joined with Democrats to vote against the bill.
All other Republicans voted for the bill. Together they had enough votes to stop all 19 proposed amendments as opponents offered them up.
Democrats said this may be yet another example of Republican legislation that ends up in a lawsuit.
"So I think over the next couple years, people are going to be wondering what happened to these thousands of jobs dangled in front of them by Republicans because it's almost certain to end up the courts. And that's the fault of Republicans not working through it when they had the time to do that," said Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson.
Northern Wisconsin tribes have indicated they may sue over the issue.
Democrats also asked why there were no assurances that a mining company hire Wisconsinites, not out-of-state people, to work a future mine
The state Assembly is expected to take the bill up next week. Republicans control that house as well. Approval there would send the measure on to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.