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Wisconsin Republicans Reintroduce Mining Changes

The bill closely mirrors the measure that died in the Senate last year. Under the proposal, the state Department of Natural Resources would have up to 480 days to make a permitting decision. Right now the process is open-ended.

The public would no longer be allowed to challenge a DNR permitting decision through contested cases â¿¿ quasi-judicial proceedings similar to trials â¿¿ until after the decision is made. Citizen lawsuits challenging DNR enforcement of mining standards would be barred.

Any damage a mine causes to wetlands would be presumed necessary. A prohibition on mining operations filling lake beds would be eliminated. So would a prohibition on locating mining waste near lakes, ponds and rivers.

Passage this time around looks all but certain. Republicans control the Assembly 59-39 and the Senate 18-15 and have Walker in the governor's office.

Still, critics decried the measure as an environmental rollback. They said the bill is ripe for legal challenges that could delay the project and any jobs linked to it for years.

"This bill makes it less likely we'll ever get there," said Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo. "It's a hopelessly rosy scenario."

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville said he was disappointed Republicans didn't incorporate any ideas the bipartisan mining committee he formed over the summer offered. He plans to introduce his own bill on Friday.

The GOP's measure lowers water quality protections, he said, creating conflict with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has jurisdiction over federal wetlands in the state. The GOP also will run into problems with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who fiercely opposed the last bill out of concerns the mine would pollute their treasured wild rice sloughs, he predicted.

"(The Republican) bill will not increase the chances of mining by one day," he said.

The voicemail for Bad River tribal chairman Mike Wiggins, Jr. was full Wednesday afternoon and wouldn't accept messages.

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