Republicans introduced a bill in January. Under the proposal, the state Department of Natural Resources would have up to 480 days to make a permitting decision, the public couldn't challenge a DNR permitting decision until after the agency made it and 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.

Democrats and conservationists say the measure clears the way for pollution that would devastate one of the state's last pristine areas.

Republicans on both committees tried to assuage those concerns by making identical changes in the bill, including limiting the size of the area around a mine where groundwater standards wouldn't apply; laying out more stringent testing on waste rock to determine the likelihood of pollutants leaching from it; requiring long-term impact models to cover 250 years rather than 100 years; prohibiting the DNR from issuing exemptions to the law's requirements if they would have significant adverse effects on the environment outside the mining site; and blocking mine applicants from filling in navigable waters such as trout streams and lakes.

Democrats on both committees still said the bill was moving too quickly. They continued to argue the measure would damage the environment and wouldn't create the promised jobs for years to come, if at all.

"This place should be a national park, not the largest strip mine in the country," Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, a member of the Assembly committee, said during that panel's hearing.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, a Senate committee member whose district would include the mine, singlehandedly extended that meeting by hours, complaining about everything from the lack of a public hearing in northern Wisconsin to what he said were the bill's glaring legal vulnerabilities.

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