A controversial mining bill is scheduled for action in the state Assembly Thursday, and Republicans are vowing to pass the measure. Majority Leader Scott Suder dismisses claims by opponents that environmental protections will go by the wayside. “What we’re doing is creating a reasonable permitting process, and a timeline that doesn’t compromise environmental integrity,” says Suder.
AUDIO: Rep. Scott Suder (:45)
The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is running a statewide television ad campaign, highlighting concerns that the legislation enabling an open-pit iron ore mine will damage the state’s groundwater resources. “It specifically states in the bill, that contamination of our groundwater supplies – in Wisconsin this is where we get our drinking water – it’s permissible by a mining company,” says the league’s Ann Sayers. “It specifically states that the state of Wisconsin must approve a project, even if we know that it endangers public health.”
Suder is disputing claims from environmental groups that the measure strips away water protections. “We’re making sure that not only is the aquifer in the area protected, but also making certain that local units of government are able to not only able to negotiate with the mining company but will be able to have a part of the process in terms of the environmental impact, and making certain that they are heard,” he says.
The bill rewrites and streamlines the process by which the Department of Natural Resources grants mining permits in the state. It’s seen as a neccessary first step, for Gogebic Taconite to apply for a permit to operate an open-pit iron ore mine in Iron County. Suder is confident the bill will pass, with or without the support of northern Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers. “I fail to understand how someone, especially from that area, could vote against a job creation bill, for their own people, for northern Wisconsin,” he says.
Sayers says it’s the hope of her organization, and the intent of the television ad, to halt progress on the mining legislation in the state Senate. “It shouldn’t be the case that one out state mining company gets to avoid all of the conservation laws that we hold dear, while all other companies in the state must obey them,” she says.
WIBA’s John Colbert contributed to this report