Assembly Republicans Oppose Latest Mining Proposal

Assembly Republican leaders oppose a new mining proposal its bipartisan backers said represents a compromise that can pass the state Legislature.

The Republican leaders issued a joint statement Tuesday in opposition to the plan put forward by one Republican and one Democratic state senator.

The statement by Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Majority Leader Scott Suder and budget committee co-chair Robin Vos said they oppose the new proposal because it largely contains ideas the Assembly has already voted against.

The three leaders said Assembly Republicans are open to working with the Senate on a compromise that will ensure the future of mining in Wisconsin.

A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald declined comment on the latest proposal.

The proposal was unveiled Tuesday by Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz and Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch. Democrats and Schultz have said they don’t support the version of the bill that passed the Assembly.

Republicans hold a 17-16 majority in the Senate, so if Schultz breaks with his GOP colleagues the bill opposed by Democrats wouldn’t pass.

“This is the Assembly bill — 186 pages. Our bill is going to be approximately 10 to 12 pages,” Jauch said.

Jauch and Schultz said their bill is simplified and streamlined.

“This isn’t the Dale Schultz or Bob Jauch or even the Jauch-Schultz mining bill; this is a collaboration of voices and a collection of ideas from across the state,” Schultz said.

Assembly Republicans passed a bill last month that requires a permitting decision within a year of filing an application and eliminates contested case hearings.

The permitting timeline in the proposal from Jauch and Schultz is a bit longer than the Assembly’s 360 days, and it offers at least three “off ramps” for the Department of Natural Resources to take more time to look at the application.

Their proposal also gives more money to local communities than the Assembly bill and allows contested case hearings for the public to participate. The proposal also keeps environmental regulations largely unchanged.

“If one commits to responsible mining, one should commit to a responsible mining law. This plan is a common sense plan that meets that test,” Jauch said.

Executives of Florida-based Gogebic Taconite, the company that wants to construct a $1.5-billion mine just south of Lake Superior, said that all they’re looking for is certainty in the application process.

But some lawmakers in the Assembly said the new proposal doesn’t offer the mining company what it asked for.

“It appears that it takes away the certainty that we wanted in the process,” said Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst. “At the end of the day, if you have a bill that no mining applicant ever will file an application for, what good does the bill do?”

Environmental advocates said the new Senate bill is a move in the right direction.

“Until we see it, I can’t say exactly if it’s going to be a good bill or bad bill. But my guess from the way they’ve done the process is that it’s something that is a much better starting place than where the Assembly was at with their open-pit mining bill,” said Kerry Schumann, of the League of Conservation Voters.

Although the new Senate bill was offered as a compromise, that doesn’t mean it will be one.

“We are not interested in forwarding a plan that creates an impasse. In fact, as you review the details you will see it honors our commitment to achieving resolution through compromise,” Jauch said.

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has yet to vote on the Assembly version of the mining bill, but Jauch is on the committee and could offer the changes as amendments to the Assembly bill.

The fate of a modified bill in either house is unclear, but lawmakers are hoping for an agreement before the end of the session in March.

The pressure is on the Legislature to change the state’s mining laws so a new iron mine can open in northern Wisconsin near Lake Superior. Gogebic Taconite aims to dig a giant open-pit iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior.