A bill that will allow for a massive open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin will likely clear its biggest legislative hurdle later today when it's voted on in the Wisconsin State Senate.
A year ago, the mining bill failed in the Senate when Richland Center Republican Dale Schultz joined with Democrats to defeat it. Schultz will likely vote "no" again this year, but this time Republicans have a bigger majority and can pass the bill without him.
Focus has presently shifted to other GOP lawmakers, like Green Bay Senator Robert Cowles. A few weeks ago he toured the proposed mining site with Schultz and several Democratic Senators. At the time he wouldn't say how he'd vote: "I'm studying the issue," he says.
But Cowles was happy with many changes Republicans already made to the bill, including a provision that would only allow waste rock from a mine to be dumped in the smallest lakes and streams, saying, "All these things made the bill much better."
The bill before the Senate still includes plenty of controversial items, including a presumption that wetlands will be damaged at the site of an iron mine. If it becomes law, the onus would be on a mining company to develop an engineering plan to prevent any groundwater damage from spreading elsewhere.
Critics say that may be impossible on a water-rich site like the Penokee Hills, especially when this mine could produce millions of tons of waste rock.
But Cowles says his father was a water pollution control engineer, shaping his thinking on issues like these: "I do believe in technology and the ability of smart people to make a difficult situation happen."
If there is any reluctance among the GOP, it didn't show earlier this week when the mining bill passed the budget committee on a party line vote.