Cullen Unveils Mining Reform Legislation
Bill Maintains Environmental Standards, Allows for Collaboration with Federal Regulators
(Madison) – Senator Tim Cullen unveiled draft mining reform legislation today that will uphold Wisconsin’s environmental requirements while also providing certainty to the mining industry.
Cullen (D-Janesville) said the bill he drafted was not based on what he thinks or wishes, but rather was based on over 20 hours of testimony from industry experts, federal and state regulators, and environmental advocates who testified before last year’s Senate Select Committee on Mining.
“The bipartisan bill is a culmination of ideas and recommendations presented to the Senate Select Committee on Mining,” Cullen said. “Democrats and Republicans alike heard the same recommendations from mining experts that I did, and I stand by this bill as a realistic solution to the mining industry’s request for certainty.”
The bill creates a two-year permitting process with optional pauses that will ensure collaborative work between the mining applicant, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The bill also allows for an applicant and regulators to mutually agree on a different timeline.
“In a recent letter to legislators, the Corps raises concerns over its ability to work within an unrealistic, inflexible timeline as is found in SB 1, legislation introduced last week that closely mirrors last session’s Assembly Bill 426,” Cullen said. “The bill I drafted recognizes that Wisconsin is not the only player in the game, and unfortunately SB 1 largely overlooks that fact.”
In the letter, the Army Corps acknowledged that one of the most significant opportunities to expedite the permitting process is to ensure collaborative work between the DNR and federal agencies. Cullen’s bill takes into account recommendations by the Army Corps in order to ensure a joint permitting process, saving a mining applicant time and money.
Cullen’s bill would also maintain applicability of current environmental standards. Although Republican leaders said recently they expect their mining bill to end up in the courts, Cullen said his bill avoided opportunities for litigation because it preserves current environmental protections.
The bill sends 100 percent of tax revenue back to the area impacted by a mine and will ensure that resources will be available to mining communities at an early stage of the mining operation. It also moves a contested case hearing inside the two-year permitting timeline.
Cullen’s Bipartisan Bill
1) Creates a realistic permitting timeline – two years from application submission to the decision deadline while allowing for a six-month pause by the DNR and additional pauses as requested by the mining company.
2) Protects current environmental standards.
3) Allows enough flexibility for the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a joint permitting process with the Wisconsin DNR. That means a mining applicant can expect a smoother, faster, and less expensive permitting process.
4) Ensures that a contested case hearing occurs within the established two-year timeline. The bill also maintains that a contested case hearing occurs prior to final permitting decision by DNR, a notion that Governor Walker has recently suggested.
5) Establishes a new gross tonnage taxation system which mirrors the system used in Minnesota – one of the most successful mining states in the nation – that ensures resources go to communities impacted by mining during the early stages of the mining operation.
6) Sends 100% of mining tax revenue to the area impacted by a mine – 70% for an investment and local impact fund, and 30% for a regional Wisconsin jobs diversification and development program.
Senate Bill 1:
1) Drastically broadens the authority of DNR to create loopholes by exempting iron mining activities from a wide range of current environmental laws, including groundwater quality standards.
2) Flips current law on its head when it comes to the filling of wetlands:
a. Current law states that when considering a mining permit, the DNR should presume that the filling of wetlands is unnecessary.
b. SB 1 states that when considering a mining permit, the DNR should presume that the filling of wetlands is necessary.
3) Requires that DNR approve the severing of a stream, destruction of a lake bed, or the dumping of rubble into wetlands as long as certain minimal criteria are met:
a. Current law prohibits a mining company from engaging in these types of activities.
b. SB 1 removes that prohibition as long as minimal compensation requirements are met anywhere in the state.
4) Flips current law and allows mining in areas that are unsuitable for mining:
a. Current law states that mining activities cannot occur in an area that the DNR has identified as unsuitable for mining.
b. SB 1 would take away DNR’s ability to identify an area as unsuitable for mining.
5) Creates an unrealistic and rigid permitting timeline that all but guarantees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will end collaboration with the DNR during the permitting process, leading to longer delays and more opportunities for legal challenges.
6) Implements a taxation system that fails to send resources back to local communities impacted by a mine in early stages of a mining operation. Only ensures that 60% of mining revenue is sent back to the area affected by the mine.