Mining debate heats up - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Mining debate heats up


MADISON, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- Tempers flared on the assembly floor Thursday morning during debate over the bill aimed at paving the way for a 4 1/2 mile, open pit iron mine to be built in the Penokee Range.

The assembly is expecting debate on the bill to last almost 10 hours.

The bill passed in the state senate last week. If it passes the assembly, it would head to Governor Scott Walker's desk for a signature. 

"We're the last stop in the legislative process," said Rep. Fred Clark (D-Sauk City). 

Clark also bemoaned the solid, Republican control in the assembly. The GOP holds a 59 to 39 majority.  

"Most of the public and most of the media, they're convinced this story has already been written," Clark said. "if you were a TV reporter from Green Bay, why would you bother to drive down here and cover the story when you already know how it's going to end?" 

Republicans maintained the mine would bring jobs to Wisconsin. But democrats said they remain skeptical of the proposal. 

"There's no guarantee this company will hire Wisconsin workers," said Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson). 

They called for the replacement of the mining bill with an alternative version proposed by Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) which the Democrats said boasts bipartisan support.

But the request was tabled -- as were several other proposed democratic amendments. 

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) maintained the GOP's original proposal remains the best option. 

Vos said Wisconsin contains one of the largest iron ore deposits in North America and the state's northern region, where company Gogebic Taconite is proposing to build its new mine, is economically depressed. 

Vos said he understands democratic concerns that the bill is too lax on environmental regulations, but said it is not reasonable to demand no scenic areas or wetlands be touched in the construction of a massive mine. 

"We're putting every possible safeguard in place" to protect the environment, Vos said. 

Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) said he believes republicans have given democrats adequate input in the debate on the bill since it was first proposed in the previous legislative session in December, 2011. 

"I'm mystified as to why we don't have a bipartisan group voting for this bill today," Honadel said. "We already have so many (environmental) rules and regulations in place now that, in my mind, it's almost impossible there would be a problem." 

"If we pass the senate bill, most of the mining in the state will be gold mining for attorneys," said minority leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) who believes bill will eventually be challenged in court.

"Why do you need to change current, environmental laws?" Barca said, visibly upset, to the assembly's republicans.  


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