More than a year ago when two Republican lawmakers introduced a bill they said was aimed at streamlining the state’s wetlands regulations, critics clamored that the changes would pave the way for what was an already controversial proposal to site an open-pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin.

That fear, expressed largely by environmental advocates and Indian tribes, related to the proposed location of the $1.5 billion mine, straddling hundreds of acres of wetlands in the Penokee Hills.

Mining for iron ore would create waste, the logic went, and that waste would need to be dumped somewhere close by, an act only allowed under limited circumstances under state law at the time.

Yet during a well-attended public hearing on Oct. 26, 2011, on Senate/Assembly Bill 24 that he co-authored, Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, said the groups trying to draw a link between the state’s ability to permit the mine and his bill were “grasping at straws” and insisted, “This is not a mining bill.”

“This bill does not set the stage nor does it create any kind of backdoor for mining or wetland regulations,” Kedzie went on to say while testifying before the joint Senate and Assembly Natural Resources committees. (Go to this link to hear Kedzie's testimony, about 30 minutes into the video.)

Turns out, it does.

When Republicans unveiled the latest version of the mining bill last week, it included significant language from the bill, much to the chagrin of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. The group had worked closely and “in good faith” with Kedzie and other lawmakers on the bill that was passed into law in 2012.

“Obviously we didn’t connect all the dots, because there it was in all its glory,” Erin O’Brien, the association's wetland policy director, said in an interview Tuesday. “Clearly, that was somebody’s objective. It is disappointing.”

O’Brien says they trusted the authors when they were told the bill was not about mining. She added the association had worked with lawmakers for several years with a goal “to address problems with existing wetland regulations without eroding wetland protection.”

That bill, authored by Kedzie and Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, laid the groundwork for a company to site a mine near wetlands by loosening the standards for mitigating, or offsetting, the destruction of wetlands in one location by building wetlands elsewhere in the state.

Those guidelines were further loosened in the mining bill introduced last week by Republican lawmakers. (The only scheduled hearing on the mining bill begins Wednesday at 9 a.m. in Room 411 South at the state Capitol.)

Whether Kedzie was aware this was going to happen is unclear. He did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. For her part, O’Brien says she hasn’t spoken to Kedzie since the mining bill was reintroduced last week.

O’Brien says prior to Kedzie’s bill, the state Department of Natural Resources was allowed, in very limited circumstances, to consider wetlands mitigation. The Kedzie bill, she says, now requires the DNR to consider mitigation.

The mining bill introduced last week builds on the ability to mitigate that was outlined in the Kedzie bill by stating on page 126 that the “DNR shall grant the exemption if: The exemption will result in significant adverse environmental impacts, but the applicant will offset those impacts through a mitigation program …”

Helen Sarakinos, policy director with the River Alliance of Wisconsin, described the Kedzie-Mursau wetlands bill as a game changer when it comes to protecting wetlands in Wisconsin.

“The law that existed until last year made it difficult to destroy wetlands,” Sarakinos says. “Now all of a sudden you don’t have to protect what you have, you can just mitigate the impacts somewhere else. That wasn’t the case prior to the Kedzie bill.”

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, introduced his own mining bill Tuesday following a series of public hearings he’s been holding since last summer. He says he voted against SB/AB 24 because he thought it lowered wetland protection standards.

Others, he says, voted for the bill because they were assured it had nothing to do with mining.

“Everybody at the DNR and everywhere else swore up and down that bill had nothing to do with mining,” Cullen said in a phone interview. “But look at the mining bill introduced last week. It is 206 pages long. The bill they (Republicans) said they were reintroducing was 170 pages long. The difference is largely the inclusion of the wetlands bill.”

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(21) comments

gadfly
gadfly

Bipartisan -- to lie more creatively.

cedillon

Bipartisan is one of those misty eyed fantasies. If Lennon were writing "Imagine" today he'd have a line like "Imagine all the politicians holding hands in a bipartisan way."

cedillon

Could someone from the "those REPUBs want to rape/plunder/ruin..." please explain why the REPUBs would do such a thing? If what any of these chicken little predictions come true the REPUBs would be saddled with it for decades.

You are suggesting that REPUBs are like foxes in the hen house who plan to raid it and then move on to some other farm. But we're talking about WI politics that will remain WI politics as long as WI remains. Why would the REPUBs blow their political clout and their political future as you are saying they would.

The reality is that the REPUBs want an outcome that is perceived as a net positive by the majority of WI voters. Not just in passing a bill but in the long run. The last thing they want is for the perception of raper/plunders/whatevers to become a reality.

thedude25
thedude25

Republicans may not be all the same but if Ms. O'brien thought those few Republicans who are open to genuine discussion and compromise are actually controlling or influencing their party then she's a damn fool.

TheJudoon
TheJudoon

Well, you can't believe anything top people in any state agency say these days. They were all appointed by our current Liar-In-Chief. Nobody should be surprised when they lie, too. It was in the job description in order to be considered for appointment.

HW
HW

The bill will pass this time so here come the Dumbocrat liars and con artists. Get out as much false information as you can and ignore the facts. How progressive.

spooky tooth

hw, are you being sarcastic?

MAGRN

Having spoken to my representative, this bill will pass unless republicans grow a conscience and decide they would like to see another term in office. If it passes there is sure to be some law suits because the previous law has made it a slam dunk in terms of unbridled lead, mercury and arsenic in our water table....we are all down stream from this, and our aquifer WILL be tainted. CALL Mary Williams and Tom Tiffamy at 605-266-2509 and 266-7506 TOMORROW MORNING!!! Tell them NO NO NO

Fartinthewind
Fartinthewind

I think this bit of information ties in nicely with the governor's attempts to roll back other regulations.

The republicans are proving they can't be trusted.

persia

Jesus is coming back to renew the world, so let's rape Mother Nature...

MultiVortex

For the record, I'm not a fan of either party, so please don't lump me in with the Democrats. But every day I have to remind myself why significant numbers of Americans and Wisconsinites entrust their votes into the modern Republican Party. In this particular case (like so many others involving corporate needs trumping the welfare of the majority), are a few jobs promised really worth accepting the deception that transcended into this disaster for our wetlands protections? Lies are not family values. Destruction of God's creation, including tainting one of the watersheds of the most beautiful lake on the planet (Superior), is not from a party of Christianity. Why are so many of us willing to stomp all over the needs and desires of the Bad River Indians in shoving this mine through? Why do so many of us feel so ardent in supporting a party that won't consider negotiation with the other party on a more moderate approach? We are a sick people, and so very self-righteous in our sickness. Now let the angry responses to this post begin.

Shake
Shake

I'm not a fan of either party,

The Dems have become the Party of Reagan.
The Thugs have become the Party of Mussolini.

Mr_Deeks
Mr_Deeks

BS

marlori

no angry response here, on the contrary, thank you for the voice of reason MultiVortex.

Mr_Deeks
Mr_Deeks

Democrat

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

Deeks, if you have nothing to say, you're better off saying nothing. Single-word irrelevancies, devoid of context, just make you look like a thotless buffoon.

TheJudoon
TheJudoon

The Army Corps of Engineers estimates it will be at least six years before any jobs will be created from this mine, and even then there will be very few.
It's another Teapublican snowjob.

barefoot
barefoot

Thank goodness for the press. Who else would document and publicize these shenanigans?

thedude25
thedude25

Who would be dumb enough to actually believe this wetlands bill had nothing to do with mining, especially when sponsored by Republicans??? The spokeswoman from the wetlands association said she trusted these people. Why on God's green earth would they trust them?

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

The Republicans Erin O'Brien was working with were forthright and trustworthy. Some of them have excellent environmental records. It's the leadership — accustomed to just uncritically swallowing legislation pre-written by ALEC — that swiped the honest work already done on reforming wetland regulations (with honest input from all players) and perverted it for their current purposes.
 
Republicans are not all the same, you know.

MSR5

If this is true then I expect the honest Repoblicans to confront their leadership. So far I see nothing of the kind occuring.

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