Joint Finance Committee backs GOP's mining bill

2013-02-26T05:00:00Z Joint Finance Committee backs GOP's mining billThe Associated Press The Associated Press
February 26, 2013 5:00 am  • 

Republicans closed in on victory Monday in their fight to lure a giant iron mine to northwestern Wisconsin, pushing a bill that would overhaul the state’s mining regulations through the Legislature’s budget committee and setting up final votes in the coming days.

The Joint Finance Committee approved the bill on a 12-4 party-line vote, clearing the way for approval Wednesday in the state Senate and next week in the Assembly. With Republicans in control of both houses and GOP Gov. Scott Walker touting the bill as his signature job-creation plan, the measure appears close to becoming law.

“There is going to be a huge economic revival in (northwestern Wisconsin),” Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, the co-chairwoman of the finance committee, told members.

Republicans have been working for nearly two years to help Gogebic Taconite open a massive open-pit iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior. The company has pledged the project would create hundreds of jobs for the economically depressed region and thousands more for equipment manufacturers around the rest of the state. But the company wants state lawmakers to ease the regulatory path before it moves forward.

The GOP introduced a sweeping bill a year ago, sparking a fierce battle with Democrats and environmentalists who derided the proposal as a corporate give-away. They warned the company has exaggerated the job numbers and the bill would open the door to pollution that would devastate the pristine region. The measure failed by one vote in the Senate after moderate Republican Dale Schultz sided with Democrats against it.

Republicans reintroduced a slightly modified version of the bill this past January. Under the proposal, the state Department of Natural Resources would have up to 480 days to make a permitting decision. Right now the process is open-ended. The public would no longer be allowed to challenge a DNR permitting decision through contested cases — quasi-judicial proceedings similar to trials — until after the decision is made. Citizen lawsuits challenging DNR enforcement of mining standards would be barred. And any damage a mine causes to wetlands would be presumed necessary.

The bill has reignited the fight with conservationists, but this time Republicans have a larger majority in the Senate, making passage appear inevitable.

The finance committee’s four Democrats ripped the bill Monday as a “sweetheart deal” for Gogebic Taconite. They tried to attach a half-dozen amendments to the bill Monday, including imposing a tax on ore a mining company extracts, removing a $2 million cap on permit application fees, allowing contested cases before the final decision and removing the presumption wetland damage is necessary and ensuring the DNR can’t issue a permit unless the agency is certain the mine won’t hurt the public.

“We seem hell-bent to move forward on a flawed bill,” Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said.

Darling told the Democrats she was getting tired of them misrepresenting the bill. She insisted the bill balances the environment with jobs. Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, the committee’s co-chairman, argued people in northwestern Wisconsin are desperate for jobs.

Republicans killed every Democratic amendment on a party-line vote. The debate lasted only a little more than two hours.

“Wisconsin is one step closer to thousands of good-paying jobs in our state,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said in a statement afterward. “This bill provides business a level of certainty that they need in order to invest in Wisconsin and our workforce.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(21) Comments

  1. Report Abuse
    - February 27, 2013 12:38 pm
    You mentioned the fast-track of the investigative processes, but currently they are crazy long. Most of this time is wasted, idle time. If they would actually start, move, and finish these investigations it would help. Right now it could best be described as dragging their feet. Investigate and do studies, but do them...finish them. Get the results and make a decision.
  2. Report Abuse
    - February 27, 2013 12:35 pm
    As for you statement about out of state workers. Will only out of state workers build, sell, and /or rent them houses, sell cars, build the equipment, work on the railroads, Haul the ore, Sell them groceries, Gas and Deisel. Work on the equipment, not to mention all the sattelite companies that will make components for the equipment they will buy and use? It's not just the workers directly at the mines......It goes on and on.
  3. Report Abuse
    - February 27, 2013 12:31 pm
    Oh the horror! You mean more jobs could occur?
  4. Report Abuse
    - February 27, 2013 12:30 pm
    The price of Iron has dropped because all the mannufacturing jobs have moved to China. they mine over there without all (any ) of the regulations, thus it's much cheaper. That in turn leads to their entire product costing less, so that is why everything we buy is made over there. It's far more expensive to import ore or processed metals, so either we mine here or you just Cede All manufacturing to China. Is that what you want? We need the products that this ore is made into. We must find a happy medium so we can mine as efficiently and safely as possible, or we won't have these or many other jobs. Protecting the environment at all costs would mean more job loses.
  5. mzd
    Report Abuse
    mzd - February 26, 2013 11:09 am
    Lots of jobs for lawyers as the scene shifts to federal level, approval, federal clean water act, Native American interests, etc.

    Watch for a frac sand mine near you!
  6. runnerwinz
    Report Abuse
    runnerwinz - February 26, 2013 11:06 am
    Have 4 wooded acres with 200 feet of beautiful sand frontage on Lake Superior one mile east of Ashland FOR SALE - $285,000 . Hurry, won't last long.
  7. hankdog
    Report Abuse
    hankdog - February 26, 2013 9:22 am

    Thanks for the great post. And for asking some great questions... Let;s see who makes an attempt to answer them.
  8. shystr
    Report Abuse
    shystr - February 26, 2013 9:12 am
    In Wisconsin, it's not the usual practice for the business that's being regulated, to write the law that will regulate them. Next up, Tavern League to re-write the drunken driving law, because the current version conflicts with their business model!

    This is a law written by and for ONE COMPANY, Cline Group ("Gogebic Taconite" is a local subsidiary wholly owned by Cline which is presently an empty shell) Cline is a deep-South coal mining company with ZERO EXPERIENCE mining iron. They plan to mine in a very tricky sulfide ore body, where crushing the rock and exposing it to rain & snow creates sulfuric acid. A toxic mess. Right on the Bad River, which flows past homes, schools & businesses in the Bad River Reservation, and directly into Lake Superior just by the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin's only national park.

    Cline/Gogebic has never mined iron. Never mined in the Great Lakes region. No presence or experience in Wisconsin. And Cline is just the company for this very difficult project why? Because they gave money to Governor Walker and the Republican Party, that's why!

    By the way, other, more legitimate and experienced iron mining companies have taken a pass on this sulfide ore body, which has been platted & known for decades. Only if you gut the environmental regulations, and fast-track all the investigative processes (the law requires Wis. DNR to issue approvals BEFORE the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can complete groundwater studies) does this mine get approved. But that's before the litigation begins. Meanwhile, the price of iron ore has dropped like a stone.

    As other posters have noted, Gov. Walker's plan is to tax only revenues or proceeds, not the mine's production. But if you look at Minnesota and Michigan, you'll see that startup mines never show any taxable proceeds. You have to tax production, or the mining enriches only the company, without contributing taxes to state or local governments. Finally, as for all the jobs -- Even the company acknowledges that Cline will bring in skilled machine operators from outside Wisconsin. So few jobs will go to present Wisconsin residents. So why is this good for Wisconsin?
  9. Wis_BlogRider
    Report Abuse
    Wis_BlogRider - February 26, 2013 7:27 am
    As the mining bill gets closer to approval we have been experiencing an increase in frac sand mining companies contacting us to buy our farm 20 miles west of Madison. We are convinced iron ore is not the only coveted prize in this mining bill. Wisconsin citizens need to understand this mining bill diminishes environmental and approval regulations for all types of mining across the state if it is passed. This mining bill will open the door to frac sand mines being opened in many areas where under current environmental regulations would be prohibited.
  10. jgvertigo
    Report Abuse
    jgvertigo - February 26, 2013 7:06 am
    No surprise that a Republican controlled legislature and committee rams through a bill not allowing any consideration of meaningful amendments to protect the environment and citizens that are poisoned or damaged by the mine. Darling is one of the most insincere, destructive, uninformed people ever elected in Wisconsin. Let's hope the Indian tribes can stop this using Federal regulations or at least winning the concessions that our Republicans won't consider.
  11. digger
    Report Abuse
    digger - February 26, 2013 7:06 am
    You spelled progress's "Ram Rod" silly!
  12. eziga
    Report Abuse
    eziga - February 26, 2013 4:31 am
    Great Job by the Republicans. Now let’s get this passed in the senate and assembly as soon as possible. Thank you.
  13. RichardSRussell
    Report Abuse
    RichardSRussell - February 25, 2013 10:37 pm
    As Gomer Pyle would say, "Surprise, surprise!"
  14. witness2012
    Report Abuse
    witness2012 - February 25, 2013 10:00 pm
    attorneys, for the lawsuits? Or, environmental clean-up workers, once it's a super-fund site?
  15. nowretired
    Report Abuse
    nowretired - February 25, 2013 9:18 pm
    While 62% of Wisconsinites oppose it. Out of touch?
  16. witness2012
    Report Abuse
    witness2012 - February 25, 2013 8:41 pm
    It's important to get on the record some other things that happened along with the JFC vote.

    It's important to note that the Democrats on the committee tried to add some important amendments.

    They tried to restore the "contested case" hearing so citizens who were affected by the mine could file for a hearing with the DNR,, it failed on a party line vote.

    they tried to change the net proceeds tax- which wouldn't give any money to local governments until the mine makes a profit- to a tonnage tax, as Minneapolis has. It failed on a party-line vote.

    They tried to toughen up the wetlands protection in the bill- it failed on a party line vote.

    They tried to restore a provision in the current mining law that would stop a mine if it appeared that issues of public health emerged- failed on party-line vote.

    The other event is that this morning, 12 local legislators held a press conference in Ashland, all speaking out against the mine in a united front, native a& non-native leaders. So much for local control.

    Paul DeMain of IndiancountryTV taped it. The link is here. Listen to what local leaders think about this proposed bounty to their part of the state.
  17. hankdog
    Report Abuse
    hankdog - February 25, 2013 8:26 pm
    Just one more step closer to frustration as passage of the state mining bill will have no effect one way or the other on getting a mine started. Unless, of course, smarter heads prevail and get the state law into conformation with existing federal regulations.

    Sideways !!
  18. PosterX
    Report Abuse
    PosterX - February 25, 2013 8:10 pm
    This mine will employ 250,000 people!
  19. lute
    Report Abuse
    lute - February 25, 2013 6:34 pm
    Backward ! ! !
    Report Abuse
    GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN - February 25, 2013 5:36 pm

    Forward ! ! !

  21. skippie
    Report Abuse
    skippie - February 25, 2013 4:49 pm

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