Friday, March 08, 2013

Wisconsin Assembly passes sweeping mining bill

Bad River Watershed Assn. map: Bad River Indian
Reservation, along lake, is bounded by a brown line.
Ore body is in red; proposed mine site is circled.
Wisconsin is one step closer to allowing the opening of its first open-pit iron mine in a very rural area near Lake Superior, despite environmentalists' objections. The measure passed the state Assembly on Thursday by a party-line vote of 58-39, and Gov. Scott Walker is expected to sign it into law early next week, reports Todd Richmond of the LaCrosse Tribune.

"Conservation groups and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa contend the bill eviscerates environmental protections and are considering lawsuits." reports Richmond. "Under the plan, state environmental officials would have up to 480 days to make a permitting decision. Currently, they face no hard deadline. The public couldn't challenge a permit decision until after it has been made."

Richmond writes that Republicans, who recently gained complete control of state government, have "played up the mine as a huge economic engine, saying it would create hundreds of jobs for the impoverished region and thousands more across the state's heavy equipment manufacturing sector. But company officials have refused to move forward until lawmakers eased the regulatory path for them."

UPDATE, March 9: Esquire magazine political writer Charles Pierce says the bill will "defang the state's Department of Natural Resources, provide what is essentially a liability shield for the company [and] overturn over a century of environmental protection laws for the benefit of a single company," Gogebic Taconite, named for the geologic region and the type of iron ore to be mined. (Read more)

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