Wisconsin Senate Approves Iron Mining Bill

Published March 13, 2013

The Wisconsin Senate approved legislation removing government obstacles to iron mining in the state. Passage of the bill, approved in a 17-16 vote that largely followed party lines, concluded two years of Senate debate on the topic and clears the path for a proposed large iron mine just south of Lake Superior.

A motivating factor for Senate Republicans supporting the bill was the proposed iron mine, which would create thousands of jobs and stimulate a stagnant economy in the northwestern part of the state. The legislation would remove legal and bureaucratic obstacles that have stymied plans for the mine.

New Rules, Procedures
Under the legislation, environmental activists would not be able to legally challenge proposed mines until after a mining company obtains a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Also, the legislation requires the DNR to rule on all permit applications within 460 days, versus current law which imposes no maximum time frame for DNR permit decisions.

To ensure sound environmental stewardship, the legislation requires mining companies that disturb wetlands to restore or create one and a half acres of wetlands for every acre of wetland disturbed.

Competing Bill Rejected
Senate Democrats, led by Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), offered a competing bill that would lighten some economic and regulatory burdens on iron mining but add other burdens.

Cullen’s bill would have created more rigorous environmental restrictions and imposed a gross tonnage tax on iron production. Consideration of Cullen’s bill ended with passage of the Republican-sponsored bill.

Expected to Become Law
The legislation now moves to the Wisconsin House of Representatives. With a solid majority of Republicans, the House is expected to pass the bill with several votes to spare. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has pledged to sign the legislation once it reaches his desk.

“This is a big victory for people looking for work in this state,” Walker told the press after the Senate vote.

Economic Promise
“There’s going to be tremendous benefits all across the state—3,000 jobs just in the construction of the mine, about 2,800 permanent jobs,” Walker explained. “This is one of many steps we’re taking to put people to work.”

“This mine will bring hundreds of family-supporting, generation-changing jobs to an area of Wisconsin that has been hard-hit by the economic slowdown,” said Brett Healy, president of the Wisconsin-based John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy.

“This mine will done in an environmentally safe way in the Wisconsin tradition, using the best science available and the professionals at the Department of Natural Resources to protect our way of life for generations to come,” Healy said.

“Extremists that automatically say no to a life-changing project like this live in a fantasy land. Wisconsin needs these jobs, and we can do it in a way that protects our lakes and wildlife. The legislature should stand up for family-supporting jobs and move forward on this project right now,” Healy added.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.