Mining Bills Introduced

It’s only the third week of the legislative session but already two separate mining bills have been introduced and a 12-hour marathon hearing held over one of the proposals.

Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) and Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) have introduced comprehensive iron-ore mining legislation designed to streamline the approval process for iron mines while protecting the environment.

The bill is similar to last session’s joint finance committee version of the mining bill that passed the Assembly but failed in the Senate by one vote. According to a press release from Sen. Tiffary and Reps. Suder, Honadel, and Williams, the changes from last session’s bill are as follows:

  • Wetlands provisions now closely mirror current wetlands laws as they would apply to any other project in the state. Language has been updated to reflect changes in law made since the introduction of the first mining bill two years ago, primarily 2011 Act 118 (Wetlands Regulatory Reform) and 167 (Permitting of Structures near Navigable Waters). These changes represent the bulk of differences between this bill and the last session’s JFC version.
  • Technical fixes and corrections recommended by the Legislative Reference Bureau have been included.
  • The Net Proceeds Tax provisions have been simplified to a 60/40 split, with 60% of revenues going to the Investment and Local Impact Fund and 40% going to an economic development fund that prioritizes projects in areas impacted by mining.
  • A limited number of structural improvements have been made to the bill. For instance:
    • This bill requires an applicant to engage with the Army Corps of Engineers earlier in the permitting timeline.
    • Additional contested case hearing opportunities are provided.
    • Notice requirements are expanded to provide for greater public awareness by utilizing electronic methods in addition to traditional means.

The Legislative Council has released a memo further detailing the bill’s content.

Senator Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) has introduced a competing bill based on the testimony his Senate Select Committee on Mining heard this summer.

According to the press release from Sen. Cullen, the bill:

  • Creates a realistic permitting timeline – two years from application submission to the decision deadline while allowing for a six-month pause by the DNR and additional pauses as requested by the mining company.
  • Protects current environmental standards.
  • Allows enough flexibility for the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a joint permitting process with the Wisconsin DNR. That means a mining applicant can expect a smoother, faster, and less expensive permitting process.
  • Ensures that a contested case hearing occurs within the established two-year timeline. The bill also maintains that a contested case hearing occurs prior to final permitting decision by DNR, a notion that Governor Walker has recently suggested.
  • Establishes a new gross tonnage taxation system which mirrors the system used in Minnesota – one of the most successful mining states in the nation – that ensures resources go to communities impacted by mining during the early stages of the mining operation.
  • Sends 100% of mining tax revenue to the area impacted by a mine – 70% for an investment and local impact fund, and 30% for a regional Wisconsin jobs diversification and development program.

The Legislative Council has released a memo further detailing the bill’s content.

The majority leaders of both houses of the legislature have committed to discussing the bill early this session, as called for by Gov. Walker in his State of the State Address.  The first hearing on AB/SB1 was held in Madison on January 23, 2013. Although the committees took testimony for 12 hours, there was still a waiting list to speak when the hearing ended.