Proponents of a major open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin told lawmakers Wednesday (1/23) that they should trust government agencies to protect the environment if a GOP mining bill becomes law. But critics of the plan say it could tie regulators' hands.
A mine the size of the one proposed for Iron and Ashland Counties could produce millions of tons of waste rock. If that rock includes sulfides, it could produce acid drainage. But it would have to be permitted first, and backers of a mine stressed repeatedly Wednesday that the Department of Natural Resources would not allow a dangerous mining project. Annette Olson of Glenwood City said, “We have to trust that our government agencies that are set up to monitor different situations will do their jobs.”
And Jeff Nass chided critics, noting Wisconsin had a long history of mining. “On some of the testimony, it seems like it's never happened here before. It also seems that the DNR is new to regulation. I'm pretty sure the DNR has done a lot of regulation.”
But former DNR Secretary George Meyer said parts of the bill required department regulators to permit a mine even if it went against their better judgment, “They're a creature of the legislature. The laws they have are creatures of the legislature. They have to follow those laws.”
And Ashland County Supervisor Charles Ortman objected to part of the bill that would make it harder for the department to halt a mine, even if regulators suspect trouble. “To do this kind of thing, man, I can't look my constituents in the face. I'll be laying on the Penokee Mountains and you'll run over me with a bulldozer before this thing goes through.”
Wednesday was likely the only public hearing on this plan. GOP lawmakers did not indicate when their committees would vote on it.