Gogebic Taconite wants to open the biggest open pit iron mine in Wisconsin's history in Ashland and Iron counties.
This would create jobs and pump revenue into a relatively depressed area, tempting our business-friendly, cash-strapped government.
Mining law revision was to be pushed through the Legislature earlier this year. This 186-page bill, written with Gogebic Mining's input, is specific for iron mining.
It would drastically shorten the time required for approval of various aspects of such projects and allow applicants to skip certain risk assessments of health and environmental hazards. The mining project is now on hold until state law is revised, perhaps by fall.
Gogebic Mining points out that it will be mining iron ore, not "sulfides," so can operate under laxer rules.
However some similar iron ores elsewhere do contain substantial sulfides that have to be dealt with as waste. Another issue is that the iron formation in that area has been exposed to significant heat, resulting in formation of minerals that can be asbestiform.
If improperly handled, the waste material could pose environmental and health problems for decades. Thus iron mines should not be held exempt from risk-assessment requirements.
It's irresponsible to write regulatory law before knowing what the mineralogical nature of the ore being regulated is.
Our current laws are perhaps unnecessarily restrictive. However letting a mining company help write mining law is like letting a car company help write emissions law.
We need to have time to take a hard look at such revisions, done by impartial people with the right expertise. We also need time to fully evaluate any proposed mining projects.
Those in the Legislature this fall, when the law will likely be reintroduced, need to be aware of those needs and not excessively weaken our mining laws.