In October, before the mining bill was even introduced, the state Assembly’s Jobs, Economy and Small Business Committee, of which I am a member, traveled to northern Wisconsin to hold an informational hearing in Hurley. We heard many hours of testimony from people on both sides of the issue: local officials, industry representatives, tribal officials and the general public.
We also held a public hearing in Milwaukee in December and made a second trip to Iron County for a public hearing in Hurley in January.
As a result of this input, our committee approved an amended bill, and the entire Assembly passed it in late January. The bill went to the Senate, which in turn sent it to the Joint Finance Committee. Unfortunately, the Senate narrowly rejected the compromise version of the bill that came out of the committee.
By that time, the bill already reflected a number of compromises arising out of testimony and input gathered during the legislative process. It was heartening to think that we were about to do something that would bring hope to hurting families and also assure that the environment would be protected.
If the mine were approved, it would have a short-term economic impact in Wisconsin of $2 billion and a long-term impact of $1.2 billion per year. The average pay and benefits for mining-related jobs would be as high as $82,000.
Much of the opposition to the bill rests on misinformation. First, the bill does not issue a permit to any mining company. Rather, it creates a process for a company to work with the DNR to apply for a permit and requires the DNR to set a timeline for a “yes” or “no” answer (this timeline was extended by the Joint Finance Committee). The mining company would still be obligated to meet all permitting requirements of the DNR and the federal Army Corps of Engineers.
Second, because the iron mining process uses magnets rather than chemicals, it does not present the same kind of threat to the environment that a sulfide mine such as a copper or gold mine presents.
Third, the mine would not turn northern Wisconsin into a wasteland, devoid of tourism. The last mine to close in Wisconsin became Lake Wazee, a beautiful natural area and tourist destination.
In his recent column, Sen. Tim Cullen mentioned that he supported compromise legislation drafted by Sen. Dale Schultz and Sen. Bob Jauch. The Joint Finance Committee compromise amendments had taken into account many of the concerns of Sen. Schultz. Now at the 11th hour, after numerous compromises have already been made, the senators are saying, either play by my rules or I’m taking my ball home.
In the end, this bill is too important to be held up. That’s why I sent a letter to Gov. Walker asking that he consider calling a special session to address the mining bill. I hope Sens. Cullen and Schultz will reconsider their opposition to the amended bill.