Legislation that would lift what is effectively a moratorium on sulfide mining in Wisconsin was passed by the Wisconsin Senate on Nov. 7 and is headed to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker who was expected to sign it.
With a 19-14 vote, the State Senate cleared the way for mining copper and gold in Wisconsin.
Assembly Bill 499 would replace a law that essentially bars companies from extracting any material besides iron and sand because of pollution concerns, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), the bill's lead Senate sponsor, said it wouldn’t change the state’s environmental rules for mining and wouldn’t stop local governments from prohibiting mining in their area.
“We are retaining Wisconsin’s high environmental standards,” Tiffany said.
Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) said the bill isn't needed because mining companies can already come to the state if they can prove definitively that they won't pollute it.
The Assembly passed the measure last week, 53-38, with four Republicans joining all Democrats to oppose it.
If signed into law, the bill could usher in a new era of mineral mining in Wisconsin, which is home to deposits of copper, zinc, gold and silver.
The current near-ban on non-iron mining was signed into law in 1998 and was driven by concerns about mining minerals in sulfide deposits, which have a history of releasing acidic material and polluting waterways.
The state’s mining moratorium requires a mining company to show that another sulfide mine in the U.S. or Canada operated for at least 10 years and then was closed for 10 years without pollution.
Wisconsin is the only state with such a restriction, which has kept mining companies out of the state since Rio Tinto Kennecott closed the Flambeau mine in Ladysmith in 1997 after four years of mining copper, gold and silver.
Supporters of the bill say new technology allows for safer, cleaner mining that would bring needed jobs to rural areas. Environmentalists say opening the door to metallic mining would threaten state waterways.
Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) said he was concerned about mining but had voted for the bill because he was able to amend it to help ensure that mining companies paid taxes and that local communities got a six-month delay in implementation to allow them to pass ordinances on mining in their areas.