After many months of examining the issue, the Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee approved a contentious mining overhaul bill Monday to allow iron ore mining in the state.
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance approved the Republican-backed bill that will allow the opening of an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin by a vote of 12-4 along party lines, sending it on to the Assembly and the Senate for a vote.
JFC Co-Chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R–River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R–Marinette, said in a statement they are “pleased” to support a piece of legislation to help northern Wisconsin residents who are “hungry” for jobs. They said the bill would protect the environment and generate well-paying jobs.
While Democratic legislators lobbied for the bill to include more environmentally safe measures and include public feedback on the issue, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R–Hazelhurst, said in a press conference the bill would not allow for iron mines to damage their natural surroundings.
Tiffany, the bill’s co-author, said iron ore mining is a different, cleaner kind of mining that does not involve chemicals. Instead, he said machines separate the ore from the rock.
He said aside from minimal environmental impact from the bill, allowing an open-pit iron mine to be constructed in Ashland and Iron Counties would promote Wisconsin’s depleted manufacturing industry.
“This is a real opportunity here in the state of Wisconsin for us to have a resurgence in manufacturing,” Tiffany said.
Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said legislators want to ensure an “open and transparent” process regarding the bill and its environmental impacts. He said the Legislature is working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to limit effects on the natural surrounding where the mine would be built.
Suder said Wisconsin has one of the largest iron ore deposits in the nation and added Iron County has a history of 100 years of iron ore mining and once had more than 40 mines.
“We hope to bring Wisconsin back to its heritage,” Suder said at the press conference. “We are extremely pleased with this project and we hope to have bipartisan support in both houses.”
Despite the bill’s passage, the majority of Wisconsin voters still oppose this proposed new law, according to a statement from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. The WLCV commissioned a poll from the Democratic-leaning Public Polling Policy firm that found 62 percent of voters opposed the bill, while only 29 percent supported the measure.
Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement she was disappointed Republicans rejected several Democratic amendments she said would have increased citizen participation in the permitting process for iron ore mines and increased environmental protections.
“Rather than letting special interests write their own set of rules, we need to take a balanced and commonsense approach to protect taxpayers, local communities, and our natural resources,” Shilling said.
Rep. Mark Honadel, R–South Milwaukee, said the bill will provide the entire state with economic benefits and said the work to pass it is the best he has seen in more than a decade as a legislator.
“This doesn’t just affect one portion of the state,” Honadel said. “These jobs are crucial for the entire state economy. I’m proud of [this bill]. We worked on it two last sessions and missed it by just a tick. The work effort has been exemplary.”