Two legislative panels have approved bills aimed at clearing the way for a massive open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin. Lawmakers are signaling there are changes in store, however.
The committees approved several GOP amendments to the bill, some of them unanimously. But West Bend Republican Senator Glenn Grothman hinted more changes could be coming, "I wouldn't be surprised if there'll be more amendments there, because this is a learning process."
Where those changes might come remains to be seen. Democrats like John Lehman of Racine don't like language in the bill that requires the state to permit a mine if a mining company meets certain criteria. One of those criteria? That a proposed mine is "reasonably certain" not to harm public health. "We're talking semantics here, but it's important. Because there is a firmer way to use the language that protects our environment and our safety and our health. I will not do it! Well, guess what? That's in current law."
Democrats also want to preserve a robust contested case hearing for mining projects where critics can question a mining company under oath.
At least on that issue, Hazelhurst Republican Senator Tom Tiffany signaled he did not want to budge. Tiffany says those hearings are unnecessary, expensive and inconvenient. "This really cuts to the heart of the business climate in the state of Wisconsin, I believe. That inconvenience ultimately becomes hurdles, and that's why we've seen some companies leave our state and why some companies don't even consider our state."
The bills move next to the legislature's budget committee which has not yet scheduled a vote.