Open Pit Express is back on the rails; environmentalists are tied to the track | Wis.Community

Open Pit Express is back on the rails; environmentalists are tied to the track

The Open Pit Express, sidetracked for the summer, is back on track and beginning to build up a head of steam.

The State Senate has created a new committee with the word jobs in its title -- the Select Committee on Mining Jobs, not the Select Committee on Mining -- and you know what that means. Hang on to your hats, there's a railroad job coming.

So far we only know the Republican members of the committee, because the GOP hasn't decided whether it wants to be able to outvote the Dems 4-2 or 4-3. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has named four Republicans, and is considering how many seats to give the Dems.

Why don't they create a Legislative Council Study Committee instead of a Senate members-only body to get input into mining, science, employment and environmental issues?

but the answer is obvious. A committee like that just takes too darned long, and the whole idea is to steamroll streamline the process for approving mines in Wisconsin.

Originally, the mining company and its lackeys in the legislature, State Rep. Mark Honadel and State Sen. Rich Zipperer, but that bill, written by the mining company, got derailed and never was introduced. It would have required a decision on new mining permits within 300 days, by limiting and reducing citizen input and easing environmental regulations.

Now the company, Gogebic Taconite, hopes for passage by the end of the year. The new committee includes Zipperer, who's hell-bent to give the company what it wants.

It will be chaired by State Sen. Neal Kedzie, who says all of the right things about looking out for environmental concerns and listening to the Native American band that opposes the mine, but as Kedzie is also leading the charge to repeal the law that allows challenges to race-based school nicknames, like Indians and Redskins.

The Journal Sentinel headline on its about the creation of the committee, "Plan to streamline mining regulations picks up momentum," makes it sound like a horse race, and describes the new mining law as "long-stalled."

In reality, for something this monumental -- the mine could eventually encompass 80 square miles and operate for a century -- it is moving very quickly.

Besides Kedzie and Zipperer, GOP members of the committee are Dale Schultz (R- Richland Center), and Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay).

State Sen. Bob Jauch, who represents the area where the proposed mine is located, is expected to be one of the Dems named to the panel. Let's hope that strong environmental advocates get the other slot or two, although the GOP will make the decision in the end. However, the new, improved Gov. Scott Walker wants bi-partisan cooperation, so maybe there is room for environmentalists to be thrown a few crumbs.

Here's a clue to the committee dynamic:

"The committee will be respectful of Native Americans' request," Kedzie said. "But at the same time, we are not going to craft a bill that is destined to fail. We want to be able to get applications from mining companies." ...Kedzie said existing mining laws must change to provide developers more regulatory certainty.

That echoes the sentiments of Gogebic Taconite, which contends the state has failed to provide timely responses to past mining applications.

Coincidental? Not likely.

Zipperer, in an published the same day as the story on the new committee, said:

Chief among the changes that must occur is a need for certainty. Under current laws and regulations, there is no definite time period when the review process must end. As a result, mining permit applications can idle for years with no answers but expensive legal bills. Obviously, this discourages investment and all but guarantees that no jobs will be created. That is why we need a law that brings certainty to the process and ensures that within a reasonable amount of time mining permits get a simple yes or no from regulators...

To me, responsible mining does not mean no mining whatsoever. The fact that our laws have driven off every metallic mining operation in this state shows previous Legislatures have simply gone too far. It is time to pass responsible mining law reform to utilize this incredible resource and to help put more Wisconsinites back to work.

In other words, the goal is to give the mining companies certainly not only that they will get a timely answer to their permit applications, but the certainty that the answer will be yes.

Published

September 23, 2011 - 12:00pm

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