By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Mining reform legislation, mired in more than a year of heated debate, continued its way through the slogging legislative process Wednesday with a few modifications following another marathon committee hearing.
The Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue passed the legislation through on a 3-2 party-line vote, adopting similar language on several amendments initially introduced by Democrats on the bill that failed in the previous session. The mirror Assembly committee also passed the legislation on a party-line vote.
The committee changed language so the state Department of Natural Resources has to be “reasonably certain” a mine would not result in “substantially adverse public health, safety or welfare.”
The embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. loses out under the amendments. Money originally targeted for WEDC, amounting to 40 percent of mine tax proceeds would be moved to the state’s general fund under the amendments. The committee also changed wetland mitigation so that it would have to be conducted on site, if possible, or near the site.
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, used the five-plus hour meeting to criticize the legislation and the rapid speed at which the bill is moving through the Legislature. Jauch even took issue with the amendment he supported, criticizing Republicans for not adopting it last session.
Early in the hearing, Jauch blasted Tiffany for failing to hold a hearing in the Northwoods. He called the compromise amendments proposed by Republicans a “choreographed exercise.”
It was the Bob Jauch Show.
The senator whose constituents would be impacted by a mine in the Penokee Hills, spoke for most of the hearing, laying out the problems he sees with the legislation and the process, He did acknowledge that he was pleased at the way Tiffany conducted the hearing.
“When you start at the bottom, there’s only one way to move,” Jauch said. “The bill is headed in the right direction. Today was a respectful conversation. Some changes we made today are what we asked for last year.”
But Jauch emphasized he is not satisfied and predicts Republicans won’t have the necessary 17 votes to pass the bill in the Senate.
“This bill creates uncertainty,” he said, referencing a change in definition to navigable waters, something he predicts will land the bill in court under the Public Trust Doctrine.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said more amendments are possible as the bill moves through the process to the Joint Finance Committee and for floor debate.
Gogebic Taconite, the company leasing the rights to the land, has proposed a $1.5 billion iron ore mine that is projected to create thousands of jobs. The first phase of the project is expected to last 35 years.
For much of the hearing Bill Williams, CEO of GTAC, sat next to Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who has introduced competing legislation that has garnered support among his fellow Democrats.
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