By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) â¿¿ A lobbyist for a company looking to open a giant iron mine near Lake Superior promised Wednesday it would return to Wisconsin and hire residents if legislators pass a bill easing the regulatory path.
Gogebic Taconite lobbyist Bob Seitz told lawmakers during a public hearing that the company intends to return to Wisconsin if the bill passes. Seitz acknowledged the company may hire some out-of-state workers with specialized expertise but would hire from within the state as well. He said Wisconsin workers are committed to their homes and can handle the harsh winters, making it more likely they'll stay with their jobs.
"What do people think is wrong with Wisconsin workers?" Seitz said. "I don't know why we wouldn't stick with the workers we have here."
Republicans looking to deliver on job creation promises have been working for months to overhaul regulations to help Gogebic Taconite kick-start the mine, which would straddle the border between Ashland and Iron counties. The company has promised the mine would create thousands of jobs. Environmentalists contend the project would devastate one of the last pristine areas in the state.
The GOP introduced a sweeping bill last year but it failed by one vote in the Senate, prompting Gogebic Taconite to pull out and start exploring Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Republicans introduced essentially the same bill last week, insisting the measure upholds environmental standards and would lead to thousands of jobs.
Republicans won another majority in the Assembly and a larger edge in the Senate in the November elections. With Republican Gov. Scott Walker still in office, it's all but certain some form of the bill will pass this time.
The Senate and Assembly mining committees launched the drive toward passage with Wednesday's public hearing. The committees weren't scheduled to vote, but supporters and opponents still spent all day sparring about jobs and environmental ruin.