Wisconsin Senate rejects mining legislation

March 7, 2012

The Wisconsin State Senate rejected proposed mining reforms that would have kick-started an iron ore mine in northwestern Wisconsin. Senate Republicans failed to get enough votes to forward the mine permitting forms, likely killing the proposed mine as owner Gogebic Taconite said it was ending plans to develop the project.

Gogebic Taconite wanted to open an iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills south of Lake Superior. However, the company refused to build the mine until the state legislature would set a deadline in the state's permitting process, among other reforms.

Assembly Bill 426 was passed in January. It would have required the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to make a permitting decision on the project within a year. However, the bill also would wipe out contested case hearings that opponents can use to challenge DNR decisions. It also would have limited lawsuits challenging permit violations, and have divided a state ore sales tax 60-40 between the state and local governments. Currently 100 percent of the tax goes to local governments in mining areas.

Senate Republicans failed to garner enough support for the bill because State Sen. Dale Schultz was the lone Republican who voted with Senate Democrats 17-16 to oppose an amendment proposed by the Joint Finance Committee. Schultz said the Assembly bill represented "a rushed attempt" to force through policy which would have impacts beyond the Gogebic Taconite iron ore project.

The bill was referred to the Senate Organization Committee, where it is now idle. The legislative session ends March 15, meaning Senate Republicans would have to pass some kind of compromise and Assembly Republicans would have to concur in a span of just days.

Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams said in a statement, “Senate rejection of the mining reforms in Assembly Bill 426 sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome mining. We get the message. GTac is ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine.”

Schultz opposed the bill's effort to limit public challenges to permit decisions. Those challenges would only be allowed once the DNR had issues its permit.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had favored the bill and had campaigned for its passage at mining equipment manufacturers around the state. Meanwhile, Gogebic Taconite announced that it had signed agreements with major Wisconsin unions to use their workers for much of the project.
The proposed $1.5 billion mine near Hurley in northern Wisconsin would have employed 600 to 700 workers in a two-county region desperate for employment. The project would have also reopened Wisconsin's Iron Range to mining, which would have also helped the state's largest city, Milwaukee, which manufactures mining shovels.

A major U.S. iron ore mining area from the mid-1880s to the mid-1960s was the Gogebic Iron Range, which extends for 80 miles from Lake Gogebic in Michigan to Lake Namekagon in Wisconsin. The last iron ore was shipped from the range in Wisconsin in 1965.



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