Movement on mining legislation

Regular readers of this blog and viewers of Here and Now know about the proposed iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron Counties and the legislation at the State Capitol designed to make the project happen.

The Assembly had passed a version of the legislation (Assembly Bill 426) which supporters said would lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs and responsibly protect the environment while critics said it would eliminate significant environmental protections for residents in that area and leave it irreparably damaged.

The Senate had been more deliberate on the topic, convening a select committee to study how to accomplish both goals: creating more jobs through the mine, but also adequately protecting the natural resources of the area.

That was until yesterday, when Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) dissolved the select committee and placed the Assembly bill on the Joint Finance Committee agenda for legislators to discuss. You can read media coverage of that decision here or here.

The decision led to a flurry of statements pro and con to Fitzgerald’s decision.

First, here’s the Majority Leader’s statement in full:

“A new mine in Northern Wisconsin has the potential to bring thousands of jobs and real economic relief to an area of Wisconsin that desperately needs it. Wisconsin needs jobs, not politics, and Republicans will continue to fight to get our economy back on its feet.

Over the past five months, the Select Committee on Mining has taken a close look at a wide range of issues surrounding a potential mine in Northern Wisconsin, and they have heard from a wide range of voices. But we can’t allow the clock to run out on a project that could mean a generation of good‐paying jobs and revitalize an entire local economy.

Sadly, we’re stuck in a hyper‐political world where the Democrats are likely to say and do anything to oppose this jobs bill, just for the sake of opposing it. I’m glad to be among leaders in Madison willing to work through distraction and discord to keep job creation as the top goal for Wisconsin.”

Here’s the reaction from Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), whose district includes the proposed area for the mine:

“I’m shocked and disgusted with the callous elimination of a mining committee that was taking the time to create a transparent process and openly deliberate changes to
Wisconsin’s mining law.

Senator Fitzgerald’s decision to abruptly disband this committee is a clear sign that he was afraid that this group of legislators would put together a reasonable alternative to the irresponsible bill put forward by his brother. His action is nothing short of a declaration of war on responsible government.

For almost a year I have been working toward responsible legislation that would establish a mining regulatory process that is fair and flexible for every applicant but protects the public interest. I have offered constructive suggestions to streamline the bureaucratic process while avoiding weakening of the environmental standards. I have been willing to seek compromise to achieve a responsible bill. After all, if one supports responsible mining they ought to support a responsible mining law.

It is sadly apparent that Senator Fitzgerald doesn’t believe in open government as his decision to disband the committee will disenfranchise the hundreds of citizens who are eager to testify at the Platteville and Ashland hearings.

Senator Fitzgerald created the mining committee to consider responsible legislation. His reliance of a nuclear option to destroy this committee just might eliminate the chance for any mining bill to pass the Senate.”

Here’s the response from the League of Women Voters:

“The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network was shocked to learn that Senator Fitzgerald has dissolved the Senate Select Committee on Mining Jobs, canceled the public hearing scheduled in Platteville, and is referring the Assembly mining bill to the Joint Finance Committee.

This is a disgraceful breach of public process. This utter disrespect for public input is reflected in the mining legislation itself, which weakens environmental protections while reducing opportunities for citizen comment or legal redress.

Current mining law balances the needs of mining companies against the public interest in clean air and water. It recognizes that mining inevitably leads to pollution and destruction of natural areas, yet offers reasonable environmental protection if the DNR has the time, resources and information needed to make a vigilant decision.

The mining bill guts these elements and constitutes a give-away of our natural heritage and our civic legacy. The process by which it is being advanced, and the legislation itself, should be rejected.”

And finally, here’s the response from the head of the select committee,  Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn):

“A few months ago, a decision was made to create a special committee to review and discuss issues relating to Wisconsin’s mining law. Today, a decision has been made which reflects the majority of members in the Senate Republican caucus to change course and move the Assembly legislation and a Senate companion bill through another standing committee. As a caucus, we need to move forward on this issue before the legislative session comes to a close.”

Despite the move, there remains questions about whether the Senate Republicans have the votes to pass this. We’ll continue to monitor the issue as it moves along in the process.

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