MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker planned to
sign a bill Monday lifting Wisconsin's moratorium on gold and silver
mining, reversing his vote from nearly 20 years ago imposing the
The governor was scheduled to sign the
GOP-authored bill during a mid-day stop at the Oneida County Airport
in Rhinelander. The bill's supporters say lifting the moratorium
will re-energize mining in northern Wisconsin and boost the region's
economy. Opponents say it will open the door to devastating
Lawmakers from both parties put the ban in place
in 1998 out of concerns about sulfide mining polluting Wisconsin's
waters. Walker was a member of the state Assembly at the time and
voted to impose the prohibition. His spokesman, Tom Evenson, has
said in recent weeks that the governor believes mining can be done
without harming the environment, but he hasn't offered anything more
to explain the governor's change of heart.
Gold, copper, zinc, nickel and other metals are
typically found bonded to sulfur. Such compounds produce sulfuric
acid when exposed to oxygen and water, creating the risk of runoff
polluting streams and rivers.
The 1998 law requires sulfide mining applicants to
prove a similar mine has operated for 10 years somewhere in North
America without causing pollution. It also requires applicants to
prove a similar mine has been closed in North America for a decade
without causing pollution.
No other state has such requirements. The
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has never issued a final
determination that any mining applicant has satisfied the standards.
The bill eliminates those requirements as well as
eases sulfide mining regulations. Large-scale sampling operations
will no longer need to obtain environmental impact statements.
Administrative law judges wouldn't be able to block any DNR
decisions on mining applications, forcing challengers into circuit
Mining applicants also will no longer have to
establish perpetual trust funds to cover environmental damage,
although they would be financially responsible for any environmental
damage within 40 years of the mine's closure and would have to
maintain the mine's water management systems for 250 years.
The bill marks the second significant piece of
legislation designed to jump-start the mining industry in northern
Wisconsin that Walker will have signed since taking office in 2011.
The other bill dramatically loosened Wisconsin's iron mining
regulations. The measure was designed to clear the way for Gogebic
Taconite to dig a massive open-pit mine near Lake Superior. The
company promised the mine would create hundreds of jobs but
ultimately gave up on the project.
Most bills take effect within days of the governor
signing them, but Republican Rep. Jerry Petrowski amended the
moratorium bill to delay its effective date for six months.
Petrowski said he wanted to give local governments time to develop
their own mining ordinances, saying in a letter to the Wisconsin
counties and towns associations that sulfide mining carries