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Wisconsin Assembly Passes Sweeping Mining Bill

One of the fiercest environmental debates Wisconsin has seen in years ensued. The measure ultimately died in the Senate by one vote after moderate Republican Dale Schultz sided with Democrats against it.

But voters handed Republicans a two-member majority in the Senate in last November's elections, making Schultz's vote irrelevant. The GOP reintroduced the bill this past January, labeling the drive toward passage "Mining for Jobs." The Senate passed it by one vote last week.

The outcome was never in doubt in the Assembly, where Republicans hold a 59-39 majority. Democrats still stalled for hours, ripping the bill as a corporate give-away. They said legal challenges will tie up the project for years and the promised jobs will never materialize.

Republicans accused Democrats of concocting wild worst-case scenarios. They insisted modern mining technology and state and federal oversight will protect the environment and the mine will provide desperately needed jobs.

"Once this bill passes, the state of Wisconsin is not going to get wiped off the face of the earth," said the bill's main sponsor, Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee. "Even though the iron ore may be buried deep in the ground, please don't bury jobs with it."

Under the plan, state environmental officials would have up to 480 days to make a permitting decision. Currently, they face no hard deadline. The public couldn't challenge a permit decision until after it has been made.

The bill also would create a presumption that damage to wetlands is necessary. Applicants would have to submit a plan to compensate for wetlands damage, including a proposal to create up to an acre and a half of new wetlands for every acre impacted, but Democrats argue such mitigation projects rarely work.

A mining company's permit application fees would be capped at $2 million plus DNR wetland mapping expenses. 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 funnels 100 percent of revenue taxes to local governments to offset mining impacts.

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