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Mining bill approved in committee; likely to fall short in State Senate vote


MADISON (WSAU) Wisconsin senators are scheduled to vote today on a new version of state mining regulations, even though it does not appear to have enough votes to pass.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-to-4 yesterday to endorse a compromise drafted earlier in the day by co-chairs Robin Vos and Alberta Darling. But Democrats continue to oppose the measure – and so does moderate Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center, who said the latest changes “make a bad idea worse.”

Meanwhile Gogebic Taconite tried yesterday to get Democratic support for the bill, which would speed up the company’s efforts to build a new iron ore mine near Hurley. Gogebic announced an agreement with several unions to use organized labor to build and operate the mine. The latest bill calls for a 420-day time limit for the state to approve mining permits, with one 60-day extension allowed. An insurance group said the compromise no longer puts federal flood plain insurance in jeopardy. And Republicans allowed opponents to challenge the D-N-R’s mining decisions, but they’d have to wait until after a permit is approved. Schultz said that takes away the public’s voice, and he said the bill still does not have enough environmental safeguards – although supporters disagreed and said they bent over backwards to compromise.

The G-O-P only has a one-vote majority in the Senate, so the latest package will be defeated if no Democrats break ranks. If that happens, Darling says she’ll try again. The measure dies if it doesn’t get passed by the end of the current session a week from Thursday.