[Madison, Wisc...] Republican mining bills took another step forward on Monday, as the Joint Committee on Finance voted to move them on to the Assembly and Senate floors for a vote.
The bills would revamp the state's mining process when it comes to ferrous metallic mining. This would allow a mining company to open a new iron mine in northern Wisconsin potentially creating thousands of jobs in the process. That company, Gogebic Taconite, says the application process under current state law contains so much uncertainty, it would never be able to attract the investments necessary to go forward with the project.
Democrats blocked a mining bill last session, and continue to oppose Republican efforts on this issue.
On Monday, Democrats introduced 11 substitute amendments, which were all rejected by the Republican majority. Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) played the key role in articulating Democrats' concerns that the amendments addressed.
"We find ourselves with the promise from one mining company who might do business in this state," Mason said. "We've been willing to entertain changing our law that would require them to pay very little in taxes and to weaken our environmental standards."
Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), committee co-chair, addressed those two areas of concern.
"I think a lot of people are confusing what we're doing. And what we're doing is approving a permitting process," she said. The DNR would still have the authority to deny a mining application that does not meet the state's current environmental standards.
The Legislative Reference Bureau later confirmed environmental standards would not be changed under the bill, as Darling inquired about each standard individually.
Other Democrats on the committee invoked familiar rhetoric labeling the Republican bill as an "Open-Pit Mining Bill" (despite the fact, it would also apply to underground ferrous mines), stating the mining company needs to "pay its fair share", and that the bill would create "trickle down economics."
Following the meeting, Senator Schilling (D-La Crosse) stated in a press release that the bill is being fast tracked in the Senate and could be voted on as early as this Wednesday.