Senate Candidates Debate Mining


At a debate for northern Wisconsin’s 12th State Senate District, there was a heated exchange on the subject of a proposed iron mine south of Lake Superior. The candidates sparred over the environmental impact of new mining legislation.

Republican Tom Tiffany, Democrat Susan Sommer and Libertarian Paul Ehlers debated AB 426, the assembly bill that would have paved the way for an iron mine in the Penokee Range in Ashland County.

Republican Tiffany said the measure would not have relaxed standards for sulfide mining. “Iron ore mining is completely different than sulfide mining. They use mechanical means to separate the ore from the rock. Sulfide mining, zinc, gold, others, they use chemicals to separate the ore from the rock. You’ve taken one of the major risk factors out of mining. So, the bill we passed was very specific to iron ore.”

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Democrat Susan Sommer said the bill contained an exemption, which could have led to sulfide pollution at the iron mine site. “If you are doing a ferrous mine, an iron mine, you don’t have to be worried if you come across any type of a sulfide ore body that’s part of it. The Tyler formation up in the Penokee Range has pyrite in it. When pyrite is exposed to air and water, it causes acid mine drainage, which is sulfide pollution.”

Democrat Sommer also said the bill could make it easier to site new sulfide mines, a charge that Republican Tiffany denied.

Libertarian Paul Ehlers said the state needs a new comprehensive law that regulates all types of mining. “I agree with Mr. Tiffany that there are fewer problems with this type of an iron mine as opposed to a sulfide type mine. That said, I don’t think we should carve out a niche. I think we do need encompassing mining laws.”

The debate was held in the studios of independent public radio station WXPR in Rhinelander.