MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - The Wisconsin Senate began a long-awaited debate this afternoon on a bill which sets time limits to obtain state iron ore mining permits.
The Republican package would make it easier for Gogebic Taconite to open what would be the largest mine in state history in parts of Ashland and Iron counties.
Senators began by debating an alternative package from Democrats to guarantee more environmental protections – give the public more input before a mine is approved – and make mining firms pay a “tonnage tax” on what they produce, instead of a company’s profits which Democrats say would be slow in coming.
Senators are expected to vote on the Democratic alternative, before acting on the GOP package. Janesville Democrat Tim Cullen said he and his supporters recognized the state’s need to be competitive, by proposing a tonnage tax that’s 20% lower than an existing tax in neighboring Minnesota.
Green Bay Republican Rob Cowles said that without Cullen’s hearings last year, the GOP would have never agreed to make almost a dozen changes to preserve environmental protections.
Poplar Democrat Bob Jauch, who represents the place where the mine would go, accused Republicans of catering to Gogebic Taconite instead of the people in the north.
The sponsor of the GOP package, Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany, said a dozen hearings were held over the past two years, where people’s voices were heard.