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Debate over mining bill continues

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Lawmakers bickered over where to hold public hearings about the pending bill many say will encourage more mining in Wisconsin. Some say hold it where the mining would take place; others want to meet in the north, near affected mining-equipment manufacturers.

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The Senate rejected the bill by one vote the last time, and some changes are expected to it.

Legislators settled on having one public meeting Jan. 23 in Madison. Attorney Kimberlee Wright of the Bad River Indians said lawmakers are not representing democracy by making those who are most affected drive for hours to southern Wisconsin. The Bad River tribe is downstream from the Gogebic site - and tribal members fear it would hurt their groundwater, wetlands, and wild rice beds.

Others accused Republicans of trying to bury the word about the hearing by announcing it on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend.

The Wisconsin Wetlands Association says it's disappointed that GOP lawmakers went against a promise made a year ago, and included looser wetland standards in their new mining bill.

Senate Mining Committee chair Tom Tiffany says lawmakers have been meeting with affected people for months - a hearing was held in the north on a similar package a year ago - and lawmakers have set aside 12 hours on Jan. 23, so everyone should have a good opportunity to testify.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says its approval process for mining operations, such as the iron-ore mining in which Gogebic Taconite wanted to do in Ashland and Iron counties, could take two-to-four years. The federal government has warned that Wisconsin Republicans may be slowing down the approval process for new mining instead of speeding it up.

Tamara Cameron of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the GOP's relaxing of state environmental rules appears to stray from federal requirements for the same projects. And it could be that both the state and the Corps might end up doing their own reviews for a mining proposal - instead of the state and federal governments working together.

State Senate mining chair Tom Tiffany says the new bill requires mining developers to work with both state and federal officials, thus reducing possible hold-ups.

Republican lawmakers introduced legislation this week streamlining state mining requirements, saying the changes could lead to the creation of thousands of jobs.

Democratic opponents point to the timeline released by the corps to bolster their argument that it would be years before any jobs are created by Wisconsin mining operations.

The sponsor of the Republican bill is state Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville. Cullen says he doesn't think the corps' review process would mean major delays in getting mine operations started and bringing new jobs to areas where they are needed.

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