September 2, 2014

Senate settles in for long mining debate

The Wisconsin state Senate was poised to debate proposed mining legislation late into the night, as Republicans continued to reject amendments offered by Democrats on the floor.

Lawmakers came to the floor just after noon on Wednesday, faced with 12 amendments from Democrats hoping to make changes to the bill. Those measures targeted issues ranging from the dumping of overburden from a mine to the ability of the state to stop a project if it poses a risk to public health or safety.

Just before 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the chamber had taken up just eight of 13 possible amendments. State Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) was the only Republican to side with Democrats so far on votes to table those amendments, which were all defeated on 17-16 votes. Schultz was the key vote in defeating the bill last session, although his opposition is not expected to stop it from passing this time around because Republicans now hold a three seat majority in the Senate.

Backers of the bill argue the changes are needed to streamline the permitting process for iron ore mining in the state. Passage could clear the way for Gogebic Taconite to develop a mine in northern Wisconsin. The company has argued current state laws are too restrictive and leave the approval process open-ended, reducing the economic viability of the project.

Democrats heavily say the bill is a giveaway to the company, which they argue helped to write most of the provisions it contains. State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), who represents the area where the mine would be built, described the bill as “deeply flawed” and urged the majority to consider an alternative.

A final vote could come during the overnight hours. If approved by the Senate, the Assembly could take up the bill as early as next week.