When the Wisconsin State Legislature convened in early 2013, the Republican majority made Senate Bill 1 to streamline the state’s mining regulations a top priority.
Supporters declared that the bill would create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in northern Wisconsin.
Detractors said the bill, as it was written, was not environmentally responsible and could endanger the "Up North" tourism economy.
Nearly a year later, the bottom has fallen out of the mining industry, and the bill is being exposed for what it was: a law written by proponents of the mining industry that was not tenable with federal environmental standards.
In crafting the bill, legislators huddled for months with representatives of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Gogebic Taconite mining company, which had hoped to construct an iron ore mine in Iron and Ashland counties.
However, a recent report by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Research Bureau warned that iron mining in northern Wisconsin would pose a variety of potential threats to human health and to the water supply that connects the complex ecosystem in the forest to wetland bogs and Lake Superior.
In a Dec. 23 letter to Matt Moroney, deputy secretary of the DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ regulatory branch chief, Tamara Cameron, said the federal agency would not be able to work alongside the state to develop a joint environmental impact statement for the proposed Gogebic Taconite.
The federal decision prompted Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) and Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), the three lawmakers who had introduced an alternative to the bill that was written largely by the mining industry, to write a new letter to their colleagues.
"Either changes must be made to the law, or it will remain completely unworkable," the lawmakers' letter stated. "Defenders of the mining law can no longer ignore reality."
"The letter we sent was a ‘we told you so’ and ‘they told you so,’" Jauch told the Cap Times. "The letter sent by the Army Corps shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone … I don’t think this mine will ever be built, not in our lifetime."
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