By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) â¿¿ Republican legislators in Wisconsin reintroduced their plan Wednesday to streamline regulations they say drove a mining company to leave the state, 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 in far northwestern Wisconsin just south of Lake Superior. The region is starving for jobs and Republicans have made the mine the centerpiece of their economic agenda. But conservationists have rallied against the project, insisting it would devastate one of Wisconsin's last pristine areas.
Democrats contend any jobs the mine might create are years off, if they happen at all. Gogebic Taconite pulled out of the state last spring after a Republican bill died by a single vote in the Senate in March. The company is currently exploring in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Still, Democrats and Republicans think they can entice the company back to Wisconsin. A bipartisan committee worked this summer to come up with more palatable legislation and Republican Gov. Scott Walker called on the Legislature to pass a bill quickly during his State of the State address Tuesday evening, inviting union employees who might work at the mine to join him on the Assembly dais during the speech.
A beaming crowd of Assembly Republicans jammed a Wednesday morning news conference to introduce the bill, taping a sign that read "Mining for Jobs" on their podium. They sounded the same themes they've trumpeted for months, 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.
"This affects our entire state," said Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, one of the bill's authors. "The jobs and the job cycles that will be created ... will just be amazing."