The state Senate Select Committee on Mining is starting from scratch in drafting a new bill to overhaul the state's mining laws. It hopes to be able to please both the mining industry and environmentalists.
Republican state Senator Dale Schultz cast a deciding vote against the bill his party backed last session because he believed it weakened important environmental protections for water quality near mine sites. At a hearing yesterday Schultz said the committee needs to work quickly to get a new bill before the legislature that will guarantee environmentally safe mining in the state. But he fears the Republican majority will try to rush through the same bill that was defeated last session
"My fear is that if we don't get something out there we're going to get rolled," he says. "I also have an enormous fear that there will be a major effort to run out the clock by doing everything people can that will obstruct a process, where in January and suddenly people will say well you had an opportunity and you did nothing."
Schultz worked closely last session with Democratic Senator Bob Jauch on a compromise bill that maintained environmental protections but never came to a vote . Now he and Jauch are working together again. But at yesterday's committee hearing Jauch was even more pessimistic than Schultz about getting a mining bill through that will bring new jobs to the state while protecting the environment.
"I am deeply disturbed that there seems to be a train running right through the Capitol and the state of Wisconsin that is gonna be blind to the facts, ignorant of the truth and disregard a legitimate public concern around the state of Wisconsin that what they ultimately want is good public policy that's fair and reasonable but serves the public interest," he says.
The committee meets again next Thursday and hopes to have a bill ready when the legislature re-convenes in January.