The public will have its chance to weigh in on a proposed rewrite of Wisconsin's mining laws during a public hearing at the State Capitol Wednesday. (1/23) At the center of the debate is a controversy over how the bill treats Wisconsin's waters.
The mine being proposed for the Penokee Hills of Iron and Ashland Counties would be a miles long open pit. To get to all the iron ore, a company would have to find somewhere to put the millions of tons of waste rock surrounding it.
In a place like the Penokee Hills, that's tricky because of all the lakes and streams that cover the landscape. But one option for the mining company under this GOP plan would be mitigation — developing a wetland somewhere else in exchange for those that get filled in around the mine.
Wisconsin didn't pass a major wetlands mitigation law until last session, when it was cosponsored by Republican Senators Neal Kedzie and Dale Schultz. Schultz enthusiastically supported the change in a speech on the Senate floor last February, “I have to say that there are few endeavors in the legislature that I have enjoyed as much as I have working with the Senator from the 11th on this bill.”
But Schultz said Tuesday (1/22) that he never would have voted for that wetlands bill, let alone helped craft it, if he'd know it would be used for mining, “All of us who sat at the table were assured that this would never, ever find its way into a mining bill.&lrdquo;
Given the one-seat GOP majority in the Senate last year, a Schultz vote against the wetlands bill would have killed it, the same way his opposition defeated last session's mining bill.
Wetland mitigation is only one facet of the bill up for debate Wednesday, which GOP sponsors says establishes certainty in the mining permitting process and clears the way for mining jobs in the north.