Debating Mining Law, Over Lunch


Two state senators who are pushing competing bills to change state mining laws both say they want to create jobs and protect the environment. They debated the best way to do that at a luncheon in Madison Thursday. (1/24)

State Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville says his bill is the better one because it doesn’t change any existing environmental regulations and would return more of the taxes a mine would generate to the communities closest to a mine. Cullen says that’s what local residents who live near the proposed iron mine in Ashland and Iron County told him they wanted at hearings held there last winter: “We had 37 people testify. These were citizens – they were not lobbyists from Madison. These were people from the area. Their overwhelming message to us was, ‘Yes, we want mining… but not at the expense of the environment.’ These are people who want jobs and in many cases are in need of jobs.”

Cullen plans to hold more hearings in Ashland County next month. But Republican Tom Tiffany of Merrill says his bill is the best approach to guaranteeing environmentally safe mining and bring jobs to the state. He says his bill doesn’t really change or weaken environmental regulations. He says it places trust in the hands of the experts at the Department of Natural Resources to interpret and enforce the air and water quality rules, “If it meets our environmental standards here in Wisconsin they are going to be able to proceed. If it exceeds them then they’re not going to be able to. I mean, it’s all an engineering task. We have the know-how and the technology to be able to do this.”

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Both Tiffany and Cullen say no matter which bill passes, the Bad River Indian Tribe may be able to block the mine from operating by using its sovereign power to regulate water quality on the reservation.