Assembly Committee Passes Mining Bill

The Assembly jobs committee has approved a Republican-backed bill that would streamline Wisconsin’s iron mining permit process.

The bill is designed to help Florida-based Gogebic Taconite open an iron mine just south of Lake Superior. The company insists the mine would create hundreds of jobs. Environmentalists, however, fear the mine would pollute one the most pristine regions.

The committee made a number of changes to the bill during a hearing on Tuesday, including raising a cap on application fees to $2 million, upping the amount of ore taxes local governments can retain, entitling American Indian tribes with land near mining sites to a copy of permit applications and ensuring the Great Lakes Compact trumps permitting statutes.

Gogebic Taconite has put its plans on hold, however, until legislators can assure it of a clear end point in the state’s complex mine permitting process.

The committee approved the bill, 9-5.

“As we emerge from a very difficult economy, we need people in this state to have jobs, to work,” said Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale. “We’ve heard that overwhelmingly.”

Approval clears the way for a full vote in the Assembly. The measure already is on the full Assembly’s Thursday calendar.

Before the vote, Democrats on the committee picked apart the legislation. They railed against provisions calling for the state to take 40 percent of ore taxes that currently go to local governments and a $2 million cap on application fees.

“This is still an awful bill,” said Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay. “The amendments don’t go near enough; they don’t go far enough. They don’t address the concerns we heard over and over again repeatedly in hours and hours of testimony.”

They also complained about requiring an applicant to give local American Indian tribes a copy of the application, saying it doesn’t go far enough to show the tribes respect.