Stevens Point Journal: New mining bill splits parties; Public comment, environmental concerns at issue
Written by Nathan Vine, Stevens Point Journal Media
While state Republicans are moving forward on their proposed mining bill this week, Democrats are hoping to include additional public comment in the process.
The bill, introduced Jan. 16 by Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, and state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, will have one hearing. A joint hearing with the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining and the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue will be held today from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Room 411 South in the state Capitol.
Both Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, and Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, said they were disappointed that the committee co-chairs — Tiffany and Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford — were limiting public comment on the issue.
“Not only will this hearing be difficult for residents of central Wisconsin to attend, but those who are able to attend will have their testimony restricted,” Shankland said in a statement. “I join my Democratic colleagues in asking to reconsider their decision and hold other hearings in parts of the state closer to the proposed mine.”
Republicans said last week they didn’t plan to hold hearings in areas such as Ashland or Iron County, near the site of the proposed $1.5 billion open pit iron mine. They said that listening sessions and hearings were previously held on this issue and on similar legislation that failed to pass last year.
On Tuesday , Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, presented his own mining bill to counter the Republican version. Lassa said that Cullen led a mining committee last fall.
“He reached out to different stakeholders, from mining companies to environmental groups, to talk with them about what they would like to see from a mining bill,” Lassa said.
Among the differences in the plan, Lassa said that Cullen’s bill won’t have a 420-day limit on the Department of Natural Resources to approve or deny a mining permit. She added that the bill wouldn’t weaken environmental standards in the state through such measures as allowing waste, rock and dirt pulled from the mining process to be dumped into waterways if it doesn’t contain iron ore.
Suder has said the Republican bill will not weaken current environmental standards.
Gov. Scott Walker called for quick passage of a mining legislation in his annual State of the State address Jan. 15. Rep Scott Krug, R-Rome, supported the measure, saying it would have a positive effect on the state and the 72nd District that he represents.
Krug said members of Operating Engineers Local 139, based in Coloma, were in attendance for Walker’s speech and have a facility that will train many of the workers who would operate mining machinery.
“We have a bill that allows us to mine and protects the environment,” Krug said. “Passing this bill will help bring a lot of family-supporting jobs to this area and improve the economy here and up north.”