Walker open to meaningful tweaks to mining bill

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Gov. Scott Walker said he’s open to tweaking last year’s failed mining bill, as long as the new bill leads to an actual mining company doing business in Wisconsin.

Walker said Wednesday that any changes to the bill that passed the state Assembly but failed in the Senate last year would have to lead to the creation of jobs.

Florida-based Gogebic Taconite is still interested in building a mine south of Lake Superior, creating 2,800 permanent jobs at the site and at supporting businesses around the state, Walker said.

“They were frustrated last year when we had people from out of state spending money trying to shut the process down because of the politics and the recall,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Assembly Republican leaders said the first bill they’ll introduce this session will reform Wisconsin’s mining laws.

Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Suder called the bill a top priority. They said the measure will help bring thousands of jobs to the state but didn’t offer any details on what changes the bill might make.

Lawmakers who opposed a majority of Republicans’ efforts on mining last year said they were hopeful that experience would lead to bipartisanship this year.

“If they ram it through without any changes (from last year), that’s a pretty clear statement that they don’t have any interest in bipartisanship,” said Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who helped lead public hearings on the bill last spring during the legislative debate.

He said similar legislation would “be in lawsuits for years and years. The only jobs that will be created with their bill will be more lawyers.”

Republicans pushed the mining bill during the last session to help Gogebic Taconite open a huge iron mine near Lake Superior. Company officials have promised the mine would create 700 jobs in the economically depressed region, but want legislators to ease the regulatory path.

Environmentalists, though, insisted the project would devastate the pristine area. The bill ultimately died in the Senate, where Republicans held only a one-seat majority.

This year, the GOP has bolstered its ranks in the Senate to a two-seat advantage. Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, who opposed the bill last year, said he hadn’t seen the new Assembly version and would “take them at their word” about wanting to work together.

“I really can’t say without seeing the bill,” he said. “People have learned to talk about bipartisanship and then they say privately, well you don’t really have to do it, you just have to talk about it.”

Walker open to meaningful tweaks to mining bill

Schultz said he remained committed to creating jobs, but not at the expense of the environment.

Separately from the Assembly bill that lawmakers could file as early as Monday, legislation is being crafted in the Senate.

Sen.-elect Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said he would author a bill in mid-January that would balance environmental standards with more certainty for mining companies that apply for permits.

He said his legislation would be based off last year’s bill but would consider the public testimony lawmakers heard.

Tiffany would not say specifically how the bill would be different than one he championed as a member of the Assembly a year ago.

“It was not perfect. No bill is perfect,” Tiffany said. “We’re working on making a better bill.”

Walker on Wednesday toured three companies in Schofield, Green Bay and Milwaukee that make equipment for mining.

“Clean air, clean water and clean land standards are still intact,” Walker said at his Green Bay stop. “What it does is put in place a process that is streamlined and makes it easier for them to invest the money.”