MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - The Wisconsin Legislature began its final debate Thursday morning on a bill which paves the way for the largest mine in state history.
The first of almost 20 Democratic amendments to Wisconsin’s mining incentive bill was voted down already.
Among other things, it called for mandatory public hearings on mining applications – plus the opportunity to challenge state decisions before permits are issued, which Republicans say would cause unnecessary delays.
The vote was 60-38, with Madison Democrat Chris Taylor joining all 59 Republicans in striking it down. Other Democratic amendments include a one-year waiting period for mining applications, so prospective companies can do preliminary environmental work before they apply.
With a 20 vote minority, Democrats cannot stop the GOP mining package from being approved as is. But by raising amendments, they’re delaying approval as long as possible, while taking full opportunity to say how the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine would hurt the environment. Republicans deny that, and say hundreds of jobs would be created.
Before the session began, Assembly GOP Majority Leader Scott Suder said the mine could start operating within 3 to 4 years. And he called this “perhaps the most important jobs bill we’ve seen in a great long while.”
The measure sets deadlines to act on permit applications. And it loosens environmental regulations to make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.
Sauk City Democrat Fred Clark told reporters that Republicans were succumbing to pressure from Gogebic Taconite to change the law. And Clark asked, “How much do we have to give away” in natural resources and air and water protections for, “a big hole in the ground.”
Republicans are also dismissing reports that Gogebic Taconite’s chief investor could be facing court action in Illinois this spring for not following groundwater standards at a coal mine.
South Milwaukee Republican Mark Honadel said the focus should be on Wisconsin’s policy and, “We wouldn’t put our name on it if we didn’t think it would be safe.”
Final approval of the mining package is expected Thursday afternoon. If it’s not amended, it would go to Governor Scott Walker – who has strongly endorsed it.