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Wisconsin Senate Passes Mining Bill After Debate

A mining company's permit application fees would be capped at $2 million plus the DNR's expenses for delineating wetland boundaries. Tax on a company's revenue would be split 60-40 between local governments and the state. Current law imposes no cap on application fees and calls for all taxes on revenue to go to local governments to offset mining impacts.

The bill also exempts mining companies from the state's $7 per ton recycling fee on waste materials. That exemption could result in a potential loss of up to $171 million annually the state would collect from Gogebic Taconite for environmental protection programs.

Republicans proposed a nearly identical bill during the last legislative session but they had only a 17-16 edge in the Senate. The proposal failed by one vote after moderate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center sided with Democrats against it.

But voters handed the GOP an 18-15 majority in the Senate this past November, rendering Schultz irrelevant. Powerless to stop the bill, Democrats chose to drag out debate Wednesday.

For nearly nine hours they pounded away at the same themes they have been trumpeting for months, arguing the bill would clear the way for mining waste to contaminate area waters and rob local governments of mining tax revenue. They blasted the measure as a sweetheart deal for Gogebic Taconite and predicted the legislation would end up in court.

Republicans countered the bill balances environmental protection with job creation.

"We're at a point now where we should be looking at each and every opportunity we have and this is right in front of us ... I have no idea why we're trying to chase it away," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said.

In the end the measure passed 17-16. Spectators in the chamber's overhead gallery yelled "Boo!" and "Thanks for signing our death warrant!" as the body adjourned.

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