After a day long debate, the state Assembly passed a controversial mining bill on Thursday. Republicans like Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee promised jobs – and dismissed Democrat arguments regarding environmental degradation. “The state of Wisconsin is not going to get wiped off the face of the earth,” Honadel said. “It will be a sunny day for Wisconsin. We’ll have new jobs, new industries and new economic development.”
Democrat Janet Bewley of Ashland represents the district which includes the site of a proposed open-pit iron ore mine. Opponents say the bill will allow mine waste to be dumped in surface waterways. “If it was stated in legislation, “we’re going to pass a law that will presume that significant adverse impact in your district is necessary” would you vote yes?”
“Don’t fall for the line that somehow we’re changing environmental standards, or we’re going to pollute the water or allow that to happen. That is simply not the case,” said Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbottsford. “We’re going to make sure that your water and your air quality is not only maintained, but is strengthened as the result of amendments that we have placed in this bill.”
Once the bill becomes law, Gogebic Taconite is expected to apply for a permit to operate the open pit mine in Ashland and Iron counties. ‘Three or four square miles, plus maybe a little additional area around the mine, our of 28,000 square miles. I don’t think that’s going to destroy our environment in Wisconsin,” said Mequon Republican Representative Jim Ott. “Mining may be a tradition in Wisconsin, but every tradition in this state, or every idea in this country, hasn’t necessarily been a good one,” said Democrat, Representative Mandella Barnes of Milwaukee.
Proponents of the legislation have said that the mine will bring hundreds of jobs to one of the most economically challenged areas of the state. Democrats have argued that it would create few jobs – except for attorneys involved in legal challenges to the mine. “A year ago when this bill was up, I said if this bill passed and created any new jobs, I would eat my shoe,” said Representative Cory Mason, a Racine Democrat. “I will stand by that today. If there are jobs created from this bill – mining jobs for Wisconsin – I will be stunned,” he said. “I would like to tell you I’ll being the ketchup, if that’s what you would like to put on it,” said Medford Republican, Representative Mary Williams of Medford in response to Mason.
Thursday’s 58-39 party line vote followed passage of the bill in the Senate, where only one Republican, Senator Dale Schultz, voted against it. It now heads to Governor Scott Walker who has said enacting the bill into a law is a priority for him.