Groups are coming out for or against an alternative iron mining bill unveiled by a couple of state Senators this week. Democrat Bob Jauch and Republican Dale Schultz have a proposal meant to address concerns of previous mining legislation, including an Assembly approved bill.
Central to the bipartisan bill is a 540-day window to grant a mining permit, and allowance of parties to mutually freeze the timeline, if concerns arise.
The state’s largest business lobby is bashing this provision, saying it will scare away investors. “This allows the permit process to drag on indefinitely, with no clear timeframe for a decision,” said Scott Manley, environmental director of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a group that favors the Assembly proposal.
During the unveiling of the bill, Jauch had a different perspective. “It provides an end date and timelines with maximum flexibility that represents the real world.”
The Assembly bill has 360-day timeline for permitting with no options to stop-the-clock.
AUDIO: Manley on why Assembly bill’s 360 day window is sufficient (:57)
The Jauch/Schultz plan would require a mining company pay $5 million a year (for the first five years) with 100% of the dollars going to the nearby area for economic development, transportation, infrastructure and a fund designated for catastrophic incidents.
But WMC calls this upfront payment a “surtax” on a company. “This surtax will make it harder to operate a profitable mine in the beginning stages of mining, and will therefore make it harder to justify investing in our state,” said Manley.
However, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said Gogebic Taconite, a company aggressively pursuing a mine project in Northern Wisconsin, would not pay higher taxes under the bi-partisan plan. The agency looked at the Assembly bill’s deferred taxation, in comparison to the Jauch/Schultz bill.
Conservation groups, Clean Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, are backing the alternative bill.
“Although we oppose changing current law, we applaud Senators Schultz and Jauch for reaching across party lines and trying to balance the interests of developing a mine with the need to protect Wisconsin’s residents and the environment.” said Amber Meyer Smith, government relations director at Clean Wisconsin.
The influence of the alternative bill remains to be seen. Schultz has made it clear he will not vote for the Assembly mining bill, a version favored by Senate Majority Scott Fitzgerald. With a slim 17-16 majority in the chamber, Fitzgerald has said they’re working to “accommodate” some of Schultz’s ideas.