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State Senate passage of new mining bill uncertain

MADISON - State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says his chamber will pass some type of mining bill before the session ends in March -- but they'll have to hustle.

The State Assembly large GOP majority pushed its version of the measure through last night. But the GOP only has a one-vote edge in the Senate -- and four Republican senators could face recall votes this summer. That's got leaders treading carefully. Mining committee chairman Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) questioned whether the Assembly package goes too far. He said the Senate would look to quote, "add additional ideas and make the legislation better." The Senate mining panel has only met once since it was formed last summer. And Kedzie says he won't focus on the bill until action is completed on another measure that modifies wetland protections.

The Assembly okayed a 360-day time limit for the state to act on permits for new iron ore mines like the one Gogebic Taconite wants to build south of Lake Superior. It would reduce environmental protections, and stop the public from challenging DNR decisions before permits are approved. Critics say they're appalled by the clamps on public redresses, and they believe the Ashland-and-Iron County mining project would hurt the environment there. But Republicans say it would provide thousands of jobs for the mine and its suppliers as far away as Milwaukee. Gogebic Taconite president Bill Williams says the criticism is nothing but "fear-mongering." He said no one has done chemical tests on the composition of the mining site. And Williams said the Senate needs to act quickly, so the firm doesn't lose more time.