Republican sponsors of a bill aimed at permitting a massive open pit iron mine have announced changes that they say should attract bipartisan support, although a key Democrat called them "baby steps."
The original GOP mining bill included a hard deadline for mining permits. These changes would take that deadline away — sort of. Instead of a maximum of 480 days, Hazelhurst Republican Senator Tom Tiffany says there could be a "memorandum of understanding" that the decision over a mine will take longer. "It's the parties getting together at the very start of this — Corps of Engineers, the DNR and the applicant and talking this through."
The catch? The mining company is not bound by law to agree to any extensions. Republicans say it's merely in their best interest.
Republicans would also scrap a provision that could have moved groundwater monitoring wells an extra 1,200 feet away from a mining site, in essence weakening an early warning system. Senator Tiffany says it's an area where critics' voices were heard, "Many environmental groups expressed concern about that a year ago when we were going through this issue. And we believe that it's appropriate to comply with that."
In other areas, Republicans did not budge. They stood by their decision to tax a mining company on its reported profits rather than on the tons of ore it pulls out of the ground, meaning less revenue for communities near the mine. And Janesville Democratic Senator Tim Cullen said the bill still weakens environmental protections,. "Well, there's 150 pages of changes to environmental law. You wouldn't have the mining company draft the legislation and put in the 150 pages of changes to raise environmental standards."
Still, Cullen characterized the moves as baby steps toward a "sensible bill." Republican-led committees are scheduled to vote on the mining bill Wednesday.