Last March, one Republican lawmaker held up passage of a GOP-backed bill that would have paved the way for construction of an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
With a majority in the state Assembly and Senate this legislative session, GOP lawmakers labeled mining legislation a top priority and began their push with an all-day public hearing Wednesday.
Backers and opponents of the mining legislation filled a more than 100-seat hearing room in the Capitol and two overflow rooms to be heard on the prospect of a mine in the state, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Those backing the legislation say it would bring jobs to a local economy that currently doesn’t offer many opportunities, while the opposing faction says the bill would weaken environmental protections, in particular for wetlands, groundwater and surface water, the newspaper writes.
And, while GOP lawmakers are still pushing mining regulation reform — introducing essentially the same bill last week — state Sen. Tim Cullen, a Democrat from Janesville, countered Tuesday with his own piece of legislation. Cullen says the bill would “uphold Wisconsin’s environmental requirements while also providing certainty to the mining industry.”
“Democrats and Republicans alike heard the same recommendations from mining experts that I did, and I stand by this bill as a realistic solution to the mining industry’s request for certainty,” Cullen said in a statement Tuesday.
Democratic Leader Chris Larson hailed the bill as an important first step toward bipartisanship in the Senate. Republican lawmakers told reporters on Wednesday they would meet with the sponsors of the alternative bill and perhaps pull from it for the original legislation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Democrats are calling for more hearings, especially in the northern portion of the state, but Republicans say Wednesday’s will be the only one. Democrats also took issue with time limits imposed on questioning.