Bill that would end mining moratorium advances out of Wisconsin Senate panel

October 5, 2017

A state senate bill that would ease a moratorium on sulfide mining in Wisconsin advanced to state senators.

Republicans approved Senate Bill 395 on a party-line 3-2 vote out of the Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry.

A moratorium that was approved in 1998 requires that anyone looking to mine ores such as copper, gold or zinc prove to the state Department of Natural Resources that a similar mine has operated in the United States or Canada without polluting water for 10 years. The applicant also must prove a similar mine has been closed in the U.S. or Canada for at least 10 years without causing pollution.

The bill would eliminate the moratorium. It would exempt large-scale sampling operations from going through the environmental impact statement process and prohibit administrative law judges from blocking any DNR mining application decision, forcing challengers into trial court. It also would do away with requirements that mining applicants establish a trust fund that exists forever to cover any environmental damage, the Star Tribune reported.

“Someone should just do an amendment to take the miner off the state flag if we don’t pass this bill ... because he’s not going to work here anymore,” said Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), the chairman of the committee and one of the bill's lead sponsors.

Mining companies have eyed Wisconsin for years, but according to mining supporters, the state's laws are so restrictive they effectively rule out sulfide mining.

The legislation targets mining for minerals such as copper, zinc, gold and silver in sulfide rock deposits that have the potential to create acidic runoff and pollute ground and surface water.

Outvoting Democrats, GOP backers of the bill made a number of changes to it in the committee.

Under the amended bill, a mining company would have to show that the corporation was capable of running a mine that complied with environmental laws and didn't pollute.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said lawmakers were turning the state's environment into a testing laboratory by removing the requirement that the mining technology and approaches be proven elsewhere.

But Tiffany said this new standard would make more allowance for emerging technologies and approaches.

"Technology is one of the reasons that we can do mining safely here in Wisconsin. We’ve seen tremendous advances over the past 50 years," he said.

Other changes would affect state regulation of wetlands near a mining project, ground water monitoring, a public review process and financial requirements for companies that would have to cover the costs of any problems that develop.


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