Gov. Scott Walker signed a controversial iron ore mining bill which streamlines the permit process into law Monday, more than a year after the legislation was first introduced.
The bill, supported solely by Republican legislators, will allow Gogebic Taconite LLC to create the largest open-pit iron ore mining operation in the world, according to a statement from the Wisconsin John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Walker said in a statement he was grateful to legislators statewide for moving forward a bill that will be deadline-oriented and environmentally friendly. He signed the legislation into law in Rhinelander and later in Milwaukee.
“Wisconsin’s seal and the state flag both depict mining in our great state,” Walker said. “In light of our mining tradition, I’m thrilled to sign legislation into law protecting environmental safeguards, while providing certainty to the mine permitting process.”
The governor added he is optimistic his endorsement of the bill will create thousands of private sector jobs in the future.
However, Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, criticized Walker in a statement for signing the bill at Oldenburg Group Company and P&H Mining Engineering manufacturing plants because both locations are more than 100 miles away from the proposed mining site.
Jauch said it is “quite puzzling, but not surprising” Walker chose to celebrate the bill’s approval miles away from where citizens will be most affected.
“One would think if the Governor were so proud of the bill, he would choose to sign it in Hurley or Mellen, two communities most economically impacted by the project,” he said. “Apparently, he thinks it is good politics to talk about the mining bill everywhere except in the location where the mine project would occur.”
Hurley Area Chamber of Commerce Chair and Wisconsin Mining Association member Bill Stutz’ perspective differed. He said the legislation is nearly universally supported in Hurley, where the mine could be built.
Stutz said Wisconsin residents would likely not be the only beneficiaries of the jobs the estimated $1.5 billion mine would create. He said while Hurley and the surrounding areas do not have enough people to man all the mining jobs, the mine will provide an economic benefit regardless.
“From the aspect of Chamber and a business man, 2,000 jobs are 2,000 jobs,” Stutz said. “It’s going to produce 2,000 jobs for people that don’t have a job, whether they’re from this immediate area or [elsewhere]. I don’t care where they come from, it’s going to improve the economy.”
Environmental concerns stalled the process of approval on the mining bill since December 2011.
Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, said the most “devastating” part of the bill is it permits environmental standards to be open to interpretation, when they were absolute prior to Walker’s signature on the new law.
However, Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said the bill incorporated bipartisan perspectives and is environmentally sound.
“Senate Bill 1 has strong environmental protections and creates the certainty needed for applicants who want to make an investment in Wisconsin,” Suder, a co-author of the bill, said. “We listened to public testimony as well as colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build in balanced concepts that ensure the opportunity for job creation.”