UPDATE: Republicans to introduce amendments to mining bill - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE: Republicans to introduce amendments to mining bill

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican lawmakers say they've listened to suggestions from Democrats and are going to make some changes to their mining bill.

Democrats say those changes are a start, but there is still a long ways to go.

Republican authors of the bill held a Monday afternoon news conference to announce a handful of amendments they will introduce in the Assembly and Senate Mining Committees on Wednesday.

The bill would allow mining company Gogebic Taconite to establish the world's largest open pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, near Lake Superior.

Republicans say that mine would create at least 700 jobs.

The original version of the bill designates that 60 percent of mining tax revenue would go towards the area impacted by the mine, while 40 percent would go to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) for job creation.

But Republicans plan to amend the bill so that 40 percent will go into the state's general revenue fund instead of WEDC.

"It gives this legislature, future legislatures, more authority in the process and I would argue more accountability.  So the legislature and future legislatures will be deciding how best to spend that money and I thought that would be appropriate," said Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), Assembly Minority Leader and co-author of the bill.

"I'm very disappointed by that," Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville).  "That's just grabbing some money for purposes unrelated to mining and the mining taxes ought to go back to the communities that are affected by the mining."

Sen. Cullen, who has introduced his own mining bill, also expressed disappointment with another key amendment introduced by Republicans.

The original GOP bill mandates that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must issue a permit within 480 days from when a company applies to mine.

But since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has indicated its permitting process takes two to four years to complete, the bill's authors are now proposing an amendment that would allow the company to ask the DNR and USACE to extend that timeline, as long as there is still a definitive deadline.

"They could extend that deadline, right at the very time before that application process starts.  Still, we'll have a set day, but we're gaining great flexibility here for the DNR and the Army Corps to come together and have a set timeline and then work to that timeline," said Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee).

"They (USACE) will not do that.  They cannot do that," responded Sen. Cullen.  "They have an obligation to enforce the federal clean air and clean water act and they're gonna do their job."

Still, Republicans point out that some of Sen. Cullen's suggestions are included in their amendments, including a provision to require long-range planning to study environmental impacts 250 years into the future.

Sen. Cullen and other Democrats say they were not included in the development of the amendments, and while they are glad some changes are being made, they still wouldn't support the GOP bill.

Nonetheless, Republicans will put the amendments to a vote in committee on Wednesday, where they, and the new version of the bill, are both expected to pass.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican lawmakers will hold a news conference Monday afternoon to propose amendments to the metallic mining bill they introduced in January.

The amendments are expected to help the state be more in-sync with federal permitting timelines, but the lawmakers will not make any comment on specifics until the news conference.

The bill, which would help mining company Gogebic Taconite establish an open-pit iron ore mine near Lake Superior, currently specifies that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources must issue a mining permit within 480 days of a company's application to mine.

But at a public hearing last month, a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said their mine permitting process normally takes two to four years. 

A mine cannot open in Wisconsin until the DNR, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have all approved a permit.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will be at today's news conference and will have live reports on 27 News at 5 and 6.

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