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12-hour time limit leaves some unable to speak at mining bill hearing

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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 (WSAU)  Wisconsin lawmakers finally wrapped up their public hearing on the new mining bill just after nine last night. Republicans adhered to their 12-hour time limit, and several people who registered to testify were still waiting by the time the final gavel came down.

Once again, the argument was jobs-versus-the-environment. But Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said the new mining package will benefit both. The G-O-P measure would set a 480-day time limit to act on state mining permits, relax environmental protections, and limit public challenges to the D-N-R’s decisions.

Gogebic Taconite says it needs all those things to build a new iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties – a project the company said it would revive if the governor and Legislature give the firm what it wants.

High school students from Hurley were among those supporting the bill, saying it would provide jobs in a place where there are too few opportunities for young people. But tribal members said the mine’s pollution would contaminate the Bad River downstream, and ruin their wild rice beds. In one of the more pointed exchanges, Bad River Tribal chairman Mike Wiggins said lawmakers would commit “genocide” by putting money and the economy over human health. But Senator Grothman assured Wiggins quote, “Nobody will vote for a bill unless they’re absolutely certain the Bad River will be clean.” Wiggins then asked the senator, “Can I hold you to that?”

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