MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin
Republicans took their first votes Wednesday on a bill that would
lift the state's nearly 20-year moratorium on sulfide mining,
pushing the measure through committee and clearing the way for a
full Senate vote.
The Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry
approved the bill on a 3-2 vote. All three Republicans on the panel,
including the bill's author, Tom Tiffany, voted for the proposal.
The two Democrats on the committee, Jon Erpenbach and Bob Wirch,
voted against it, warning that the bill would open the door to
Tiffany said the bill is about providing minerals for the military
and manufacturers as well as creating jobs in economically-depressed
"We know one thing for certain with the mining moratorium law. There
will be no more mining in the state of Wisconsin. We should just
take the miner off the state flag. He's been unemployed for the last
25 years here in Wisconsin."
Committee approval makes the bill available for Senate leaders to
schedule a full floor vote. Senate Majority Leader Scott
Fitzgerald's spokesman, Dan Romportl, didn't immediately reply to an
email inquiring about when that might happen.
Both Fitzgerald and Gov. Scott Walker voted for the moratorium when
the Legislature passed it in 1998. Fitzgerald was in the Senate and
Walker in the Assembly at the time. But Fitzgerald has signed on as
a co-sponsor on the new bill. Walker's office hasn't said whether he
supports it or not.
Under the moratorium, anyone looking to mine sulfide ores such as
copper, gold or zinc must prove to the state Department of Natural
Resources that a similar mine has operated in the U.S. or Canada for
a decade without causing pollution. The applicant also must prove a
similar mine has been closed in the U.S. or Canada for at least 10
years without causing pollution.
The DNR has never issued a final decision that any applicant has
satisfied those standards. Tiffany insists that a Flambeau Mining
Company operation near Ladysmith that closed in 1997 after four
years of operation proves mining can be done safely.
Environmentalists, though, contend that mine is still polluting
The bill would eliminate the moratorium. It would exempt large-scale
sampling operations from going through the environmental impact
statement process and prohibit administrative law judges from
blocking any DNR mining application decision, forcing challengers
into trial court. It also would do away with requirements that
mining applicants establish a trust fund that exists forever to
cover any environmental damage.
Committee Republicans walked the bill back a bit Wednesday, amending
it to require the DNR determine whether a mining applicant's
equipment would be capable of complying with air, water and waste
standards as a condition of approval. It also would require
applicants to maintain financial responsibility for any
environmental damage that occurs within 40 years of closure and
guarantee they'll cover repairs and upkeep for their mines' water
management systems for between 40 and 250 years.
Tiffany said the financial liability provisions take the place of
the trust language. Erpenbach complained that those provisions are
weaker than requiring financial responsibility in perpetuity and
could leave future taxpayers at risk for environmental cleanup.