Republican legislators offered amendments to a controversial mining bill that they say would set higher standards for state environmental officials to grant a permit and requiring them to work with federal organizations on a timeline for issuing them.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, introduced the amendments to the mining bill they have been writing at a press conference Monday.
The three men addressed contested issues regarding environmental regulations and the permitting process for approval, while trying to retain certainty. They emphasized the amended bill’s increased balance with the inclusion of more Democratic input, especially ideas from the bill drafted by Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville.
The amended bill sets higher standards for the Department of Natural Resources to grant a permit for mining companies seeking to develop certain areas. With the new legislation, the DNR is required to look at environmental impact of the bill 250 years into the future.
It also creates a memorandum between the DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, requiring the state and federal organizations work together to agree on a timeline for mining permit acceptance.
The current bill sets forth a 420-day timeline with one 60-day extension for the DNR to grant a mining company a permit. At the public mining hearing Jan. 23, the Corps of Engineers said their permit approval process usually lasts much longer than the DNR’s outlined time frame. The new required memorandum will force the two groups to compromise on a timeline.
“We need a start time and a finish time,” Honadel said. “This helps clarify these two issues.”
He said this addition is a good bipartisan solution, allowing for flexibility between the DNR and the Corps of Engineers while keeping the bill’s certainty in place.
Suder and Tiffany spoke to the environmental concerns many groups presented, especially mitigation requirements. They said the original bill required the mining company compensate for any environmental damage elsewhere at a 1:1 ratio, meaning if the company filled in a puddle in one area for the purpose of mine construction, they would have to construct one of an equal size elsewhere.
The amended version makes this 1:1 ratio a floor figure and then creates an additional ceiling ratio of 1:1.5, guaranteeing any environmental harm would be made up between these two ratios and as close to the potential mining site as possible.
“We say that these are bipartisan amendments because they incorporate ideas from a number of parties,” Suder said. “We didn’t have to take their ideas into consideration, but it was the right thing to do, and frankly I give them a lot of credit for coming forth and having those discussions.”
Cullen said the three lawmakers never sat down with him to discuss the amendments, but rather sat down with his bill. He did, however, say it is good to see the Legislature open to making changes.
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, said in a statement the amendments presented show the authors recognize the concerns brought forth as legitimate. However, he said he still opposed many of the bill’s fundamentals.
“The fact remains, however, that despite the amendments, the bill is still deeply flawed,” he said in a statement. “It still sets an unrealistic timeline, it still gives too much power over the process to the mining company, it still contains provisions that weaken environmental protections and it still short-changes Wisconsin taxpayers.”
The Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining and the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue will vote on the bill’s amendments Wednesday.