By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) â¿¿ Republican legislators tried again Tuesday to streamline regulations they say caused a mining company to leave Wisconsin, reigniting one of the fiercest environmental debates the state has seen in decades.
The GOP has been working for more than a year to change the regulations in hopes of enticing Gogebic Taconite to open a huge open pit iron mine near Lake Superior. Republicans have made the effort the centerpiece of their job-creation plans, but conservationists have rallied against the mine, insisting it would devastate one of Wisconsin's last pristine areas.
A sweeping Republican bill to relax regulations died by one vote in the Senate in March, prompting the company to pull out of the state and focus on new exploratory work in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
But Republicans said Tuesday they were convinced they can entice the company back to Wisconsin. The new bill proposed Tuesday closely mirrors the failed legislation from last session, with provisions that give the state Department of Natural Resources up to 480 days to issue a mining permit; allow contested case hearings only after a permit decision has been made; and bar civil lawsuits that accuse the DNR of failing to live up to its duties.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker called on the Legislature to pass the bill quickly during his State of the State address on Tuesday evening, even inviting union workers who might work at the mine to join him on the Assembly dais during the speech.
Assembly Republicans jammed a news conference Tuesday to reveal the bill, taping a sign that read "Mining for Jobs" on their podium. They sounded the same themes they've been trumpeting for the last year, playing up mining's history in northern Wisconsin, pledging the bill wouldn't harm the environment and promising the legislation would set the stage for thousands of new mining-related jobs in the construction, service and manufacturing sectors.