Mining Bill Introduced
The long anticipated mining bill was released by Assembly Republicans on Thursday, Dec. 8. The 183-page bill would create new statutes to govern ferrous (iron) mining, which is currently regulated in the same manner as non-ferrous (non-iron minerals like gold or copper) mining.
This bill is a response to Gogebic Taconite's proposal to build Wisconsin’s largest ever iron mine. Proponents of the bill point to the job creation potential of the mine, while opponents worry environmental standards will be sacrificed to gain those jobs. Proponents counter that the text of the bill is the best indication so far that it is possible to retain Wisconsin’s strong environmental standards while still taking advantage of the state’s rich natural resources.
The bill will be formally introduced and receive a public hearing Wednesday, December 14 at 10 a.m. during a public hearing held by the Assembly Committee on Small Business, Jobs and the Economy. The committee will meet in Milwaukee at State Fair Park.
This article breaks the mining bill requirements into stages and provides a brief discussion of the proposed changes at each stage.
The bill makes very few changes to the existing pre-application and application processes. For the most part, current statutes and rules are simply moved to the new ferrous mining statute as is. One notable change is the availability of early data collection. The current mining process prevents a person who intends to apply for a mining permit from collecting and analyzing data, such as water quality information, and presenting that data to the DNR as part of its pre-application. The bill would allow data collection and analysis to occur before a person seeking a mining permit makes the decision to apply for a permit, saving time and giving both the applicant and the DNR more information to make decisions from.
The bill will require all applicants, rather than only those the DNR determines should, to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR), and to submit that report with their application. EIRs are used by the DNR to prepare environmental impact statements (EIS). The bill requires the DNR work with other state and federal agencies to draft one joint EIS. This differs from current law, which permits, but does not require, the DNR to coordinate with other agencies. The bill permits the DNR hold a hearing covering both the EIR and the EIS, rather than requiring two separate hearings. Any hearing the DNR holds must be conducted as a public hearing rather than contested case hearings under the bill, allowing public participation without having to swear an oath or understand the rules of cross-examination.
Current law does not include a timeline for completeness determinations and DNR actions. The bill remedies this, providing clear timelines for both the applicant and the DNR. The bill also modifies the circumstances where the DNR can deny a mining permit.
One major change the bill proposes is the incorporation of other permits into the overall mining permits by consolidating the mining permit process with all of the other incidental environmental permits that may be required. Incorporating other required permits, such as air quality and water withdrawal or wetlands permits, into the larger mining permit ensures the permit includes clear standards and expectations. Moving these standards from the administrative rules to the statutes gives the legislature additional oversight over the mining process, while providing greater certainty to the applicant since it is clear the mining law is the controlling statute.
Review of DNR Decisions
The bill modifies the current appeals process by skipping the contested case stage and providing for initial review in the circuit court.
Reclamation and Liability
The bill maintains the requirement that mining companies post a financial bond to cover the cost of complying with Wisconsin’s mining law. The bill, like current law, also requires the operator of a mining waste facility to provide proof of financial responsibility for the costs of the care, maintenance, and monitoring of the facility after it is closed (long−term care). The obligation to provide proof of financial responsibility for long−term care continues until DNR terminates that requirement. In addition, the company is perpetually liable for any spills or contaminations.
The bill also incorporates the current requirement that the mining site be fully reclaimed and restored consistent with a DNR-approved plan. This plan must be outlined in the original application.
Fees and Taxes
The bill requires DNR to assess a fee equal to its costs for evaluating a mining project or $1,100,000, whichever is less. An applicant must pay $100,000 with the bulk sampling plan or, if no bulk sampling plan is filed, with the notice of intent to file a mining permit application and then must make $250,000 payments when DNR shows that the previous payments have been fully allocated against actual costs.
Under current law, the state imposes a net proceeds occupation tax on the mining of metallic minerals in this state. The tax is based, generally, on a percentage of net income from the sale of ore or minerals after certain mining processes have been applied to the ore or minerals.
Under the bill, 50 percent of the revenue collected from the net proceeds occupation tax on extracting ferrous metallic minerals in this state is deposited into the investment and local impact fund and 50 percent of the revenue is deposited into the general fund.
This post was authored by Emily Kelchen.