July 23, 2014

Mining hearing gets underway

Lawmakers are hearing testimony today in what will likely be the only public hearing on a proposed mining bill. Hundreds of people turned out at the state Capitol early this morning for a committee hearing on the legislation, which was introduced just last week.

The hearing opened with testimony from the Republican sponsors of the bill, who say the proposed changes in regulations for iron ore mining are necessary to help attract companies to the state. Assembly Republican Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) says the proposal adds reasonable time lines for the process of approving a mine, while also maintaining the state’s high environmental standards.

During testimony, state experts did confirm that the bill would exempt mining companies from certain environmental standards. Republicans contend that potential mining operations would still need to meet federal standards and a permit would not be approved if a mine would violate those regulations.

Bob Seitz with Gogebic Taconite also told lawmakers passing the bill would renew their interest in opening a mine in Ashland and Iron Counties. The company dropped its plans for the location after similar legislation failed in the state Senate last spring. Company officials have stressed that the changes are needed in order to even justify the expense of exploring a potential mine site in Iron and Ashland counties.

Testimony is expected to run through late this evening and strict time limits have been put in place for the public, as well as on questions from lawmakers. Those rules drew a heated response from Democrats on the panel after committee co-chair Mary Williams (R-Medford) cut off testimony from the bill’s sponsors after less than a half an hour. State Senator John Lehman (D-Racine) called it “unheard of” to stop lawmakers from questioning the authors of the bill.

The hearing is scheduled to run through nine this evening or when all who have registered to testify have done so, whichever comes first.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:07)