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Democrats call mining bill changes "baby steps"


MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Majority Republicans say they’ve added more environmental protections to a bill aimed at bringing a new iron ore mine to northern Wisconsin.

But Democrats called them “baby steps” that don’t do enough to avoid damage to water resources.

Assembly and Senate mining committees are expected to recommend the new package Wednesday, and send it to both houses for approval in the next month or so.

The bill streamlines the procedure for issuing state mining permits, with the goal of having Gogebic Taconite open what would be Wisconsin’s largest mine ever – a large iron ore facility in Ashland and Iron counties.

Under the proposed environmental changes, more tests of waste rock would be required to avoid polluted runoff – and that runoff would be limited in existing waterways. Mining firms would pay to see how their projects affect wetlands.

The DNR could not issue exemptions to environmental rules if a mine could cause major damage outside its property. And new studies would determine the impact of mines for the following 250 years.

The state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have to agree to work together on their reviews. But the state’s faster deadline for decisions on permits would remain, with a 480 day maximum.

Also, the public would still be barred from challenging DNR mining decisions. Republican Assembly Leader Scott Suder said his party made its changes in discussions with Democrats, and the compromise includes pieces of an alternative bill from Janesville Senate Democrat Tim Cullen.

But Cullen said he won’t support it. He said it only took a small step in the right direction and, “It’s an ever so slightly better bill.”