The Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry voted 3-2 to approve a Republican bill that would end Wisconsin's sulfide mining moratorium.
Wisconsin lawmakers enacted the legislation in 1998 requiring companies seeking to mine sulfide ores such as copper, zinc and gold to prove similar Canadian or U.S. mines had operated for 10 years and been closed for 10 years without causing pollution.
The committee’s approval of the bill came on the same day the Wisconsin location for FoxConn's newest manufacturing facility was announced. During the hearing, the bill's chief author, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said sulfide mines could produce the minerals needed for the technology being made by manufacturers like FoxConn.
"We have a manufacturer with 21st century technology that is coming to Wisconsin. So we can have those good, family supporting jobs and this (lifting of the mining moratorium) will help do that”
Tiffany also said the bill would boost the state’s economy which at one time relied heavily on mining.
"We know one thing for certain with the mining moratorium law: there will be more mining in the state of Wisconsin. Someone should just introduce an amendment to take the miner off the flag here in the state of Wisconsin if we’re not going to get rid of the mining moratorium law. Because he is not going to work anymore. Been unemployed for 20 years here in Wisconsin and will be unemployed for much longer than that if we do not pass this bill," Tiffany said.
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All three Republicans on the committee voted for the bill. The two Democrats voted against it.
Amendments added to the bill during the committee hearing are meant to provide financial safeguards in case of pollution or of a mine goes bankrupt. But democrats questioned whether they would be adequate and how long those protections would last.
"Taxpayers could certainly be on the hook financially for more than they ever bargained for," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.
The current moratorium on sulfide mining requires permit applicants to have an irrevocable trust in perpetuity. The bill removes that and replaces it with different financial safeguards. Mining companies would have to maintain funds for unforeseen contingencies like hazardous waste spills which occur 40 or fewer years after excavation ends. Another change deals with the mechanical components that manage waste. That fund would last 250 years after a mine closes.
Committee approval sets up a full Senate vote.
Editors note: This story was updated on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 5:00 p.m. with original WPR reporting.