Legislators must unite for lasting mining reform
More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson argued that great innovations should not be forced by a slender majority. Jefferson believed in broad support for sweeping change, and I believe that principle holds true today.
Last session, partisan divisions dragged progress on a key economic development issue—mining—to a grinding halt. In the year ahead, the issue of mining will demand a more collaborative Legislature.
The mining industry is looking for the Legislature to eliminate uncertainty in the permitting process. If a mining bill passes on a party-line vote, the industry would be reluctant to invest in Wisconsin because political waves can lead to shifts in partisan power. The best way to provide certainty and bring mining jobs to Wisconsin is to create a bill that receives wide support and could withstand a political sea change.
Assembly Bill 426 from 2011 failed to receive broader support last session because it was unrealistic. The Senate Select Committee on Mining recently learned that AB-426 ignored the fact that Wisconsin is not the only player in the permitting process.
The bill would have created irreconcilable conflicts with federal regulatory agencies, forcing a mining company to conduct two separate permitting processes—one with the state and one with the federal government. This would add time and costs to a mining application, while also opening the door to legal challenges if the two processes had different results.
Legislators need to create a realistic timeline that speeds up the permitting process but still allows the state to work with federal agencies, which already have an established permitting timeline that could take up to six years—two years for a pre-application exploratory process and up to four years for the environmental review process and formal application review period.
Minnesota, known for its welcoming attitude toward mining, conforms to these timelines.
As the mining committee has learned, the only way to bring mining back to Wisconsin is to ensure that new mining regulations protect our water and comply with state and federal environmental safeguards, while also recognizing treaty rights exercised by Native American tribes.
AB-426 attempted to legalize the devastation of Wisconsin’s waterways. That action would violate the state constitution, which is clear in its language that no individual or company can own our waterways or is entitled to destroy them. AB-426 would lead to a legal stalemate and fail to create jobs.
Mining companies won’t invest in a state with a business environment that creates endless legal hurdles.
Thomas Jefferson would surely agree that it is in Wisconsin’s interest to pass a mining bill with broad support. Now that the latest round of elections is over, both sides have indicated they want to work together to pass a mining bill that works for Wisconsin.
The Legislature can create long-lasting policy that will grow our economy—and we can change the culture of governing in Wisconsin while we’re at it.
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, serves as the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Mining. Readers can reach him by phone at 1-800-334-1468 or by email at sen.cul-len@legis.Wisconsin.gov.