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MADISON, Wis. (AP) â¿¿ Republicans' divisive plan to help a mining company open a huge open-pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin would cost the state more than $170 million meant for recycling and environmental protection programs every year, according to new projections.
The legislation is designed to clear the regulatory path for Gogebic Taconite's plans for a mine just south of Lake Superior. Republicans insist the measure will help create hundreds of jobs in the economically depressed area and thousands more for heavy equipment manufacturers across the state.
Democrats and conservationists insist it would open the door to devastating pollution and ruin one of Wisconsin's last pristine regions.
Part of the proposal would drastically reduce state fees that mining companies pay for producing waste rock. Mining companies currently pay $7.03 per ton of waste rock. Most of that money goes to help fund local governments' recycling efforts, pollution abatement, brownfield cleanup and bonds for cleaning up contaminated land.
According to estimates the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released Wednesday, the bill would slash that to a little less than 3 cents, resulting in a loss of up to $171 million annually.
"It's a free ride for a mining company," Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said Thursday. "It's part of why so many people object to the bill just on economic grounds."
Under the legislation, mining companies' only obligation to the state for waste materials would be a 1-cent per ton environmental repair fee, a 1-cent per ton groundwater fee and a 0.7-cent per ton fee for the Waste Facility Siting Board, an arm of the governor's office that facilitates talks between landfill license applicants and municipalities. Mining companies wouldn't have to pay a recycling fee, which is currently $7 per ton.
The bureau's report, released Wednesday, notes that Gogebic Taconite expects to extract about 8 million long tons of iron annually over the mine's 35-year first phase; a long ton is 2,240 pounds. The bureau said that would lead to about 29 million tons of waste per year, including 18 million tons of tailings, the crushed ore waste left over from processing iron pellets, and 11 million tons of overlying rock.