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Opponents prepare for fight over mining bill

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A worker drives a skip loader while working at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county
A worker drives a skip loader while working at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county

MADISON (WRN)  A state environmental group says the proposed mining bill is flawed, extreme and threatens to contaminate water supplies. Republican lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled the latest version of a bill aimed at overhauling state mining regulations. The bill is based on similar legislation that fell short of final approval in the state Senate last session by just one vote.

Anne Sayers with the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters says the latest version contains many of the same flaws that concerned environmental advocates the last time around. Sayers says the proposal weakens key environmental rules and exempts mine operators from laws such as public rights to waterways and protections for water quality.

Sayers says lawmakers also need to be more up front about their claims that a mine could lead to the creation of thousands of jobs. She calls it an argument about “fantasy land” to say the bill will create jobs, when it also exempts major polluters from laws on the books.

Sayers says we should not sacrifice environmental protections for the sake of an out-of-state company looking to make a quick buck. Republicans argued for the bill’s approval based on plans for an iron ore mine in Iron and Ashland counties. However, Gogebic Taconite pulled its support for the project last year after the first attempt at passing the bill failed. The company has not said if it would come back to the state if a bill is approved.

Supporters of the bill argue the changes are needed to give potential mine operators more certainty about the approval process and that any proposed site will not receive a permit if it does not comply with all regulations.

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There will be more than one mining bill offered in the legislature this session. Janesville Democrat, state Senator Tim Cullen, held extensive hearings on mining while Democrats briefly held the Senate majority following recall elections. And he’ll offer his own mining legislation as a counter to the bill introduced by Republicans. “The difference is, my bill does not lower environmental standards in Wisconsin,” Cullen said. “Their bill spends well over 100 pages doing just that.”

Specifically, Cullen charges that the GOP bill will allow waste from a massive taconite mine in Iron and Ashland Counties to be dumped into waterways, waste which would have the potential to contaminate the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows into Lake Superior.

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