By DINESH RAMDE
MILWAUKEE (AP) – Gov. Scott Walker encouraged lawmakers Tuesday to break their impasse over legislation that would streamline the state’s mining permitting process, saying it should be possible to produce a bill that protects the environment while also giving mining companies enough incentive to bring jobs to the state.
The GOP-led Assembly has already passed a bill designed to help a Florida company open an iron-ore mine in northern Wisconsin. But the measure doesn’t seem to have enough support in the Senate, where Republicans have a slim 17-16 majority.
Republican Sen. Dale Schultz and Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch have offered an approach that they say protects the public interest while balancing the desire to move quickly to create jobs.
Walker said Tuesday he wasn’t endorsing any particular bill, but said he didn’t like the Schultz-Jauch bill because it “would not lead to an investment that would lead to 2,300 jobs.” That’s the total number of jobs he says would be created if Florida-based Gogebic Taconite is allowed to dig a giant open-pit iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior.
The Republican governor declined to say what specific tweaks lawmakers would have to make, calling the points of contention “a moving target.”
“We haven’t drawn a line in the sand on any provisions,” he told reporters. “Our line in the sand is it does no good for the Legislature to go through this process and have a bill that ultimately, not just this company but others, walk away from and say, ‘Well, this is still too difficult.’”
Jauch told The Associated Press that the governor should take a leadership role and “stop talking in generalities.”
“My recommendation to Gov. Walker is for him to be specific about the changes he feels must be made in order to make our bill a better bill,” Jauch said.
Todd Allbaugh, Schultz’s chief of staff, said his boss “is working with all sides to find a way forward on a mining jobs bill.”
Walker made his comments at P&H Mining Equipment Inc. in Milwaukee. He was scheduled to make similar stops Tuesday at two other Wisconsin mining companies: Oldenburg Lake Shore in Rhinelander and Feeco International Inc. in Green Bay.
Gogebic Taconite officials have promised their mining project will create hundreds of jobs and bring decades of income to economically depressed northern Wisconsin. But they’ve put their plans on hold until lawmakers can guarantee a stopping point in the state’s open-ended mining permitting process.
The fight over what changes to make in proposed legislation has divided people into two main camps.
One is the environmentalists and Democrats concerned about potential pollution from the mine. The other is the state’s business community and Republicans who say the promised jobs would give a much-needed jolt to an economically depressed part of the state.
The debate has come over several key portions of the proposal, including who would benefit from a sales tax on the minerals being mined, how quickly the permitting process would take, and whether the public would have an opportunity to object.