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Wis. Democrats set up own public hearing on mining bill (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A pair of Democratic legislators plan to hold their own public hearing on a Republican bill that would rewrite Wisconsin’s iron mining statutes.

The measure is designed to jump-start Gogebic Taconite’s plans for a mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior in far northwestern Wisconsin.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, have announced they plan to host an all-day public hearing at Ashland High School on Jan. 7. They say people in their region deserve a chance to speak after Republicans held a hearing on the legislation earlier this month in a Milwaukee suburb hundreds of miles from the site of the planned mine.

Gogebic Taconite claims the mine will create hundreds of jobs for economically repressed northwestern Wisconsin. Environmentalists, though, fear the mine would contaminate one of the most pristine regions in the state.

Gogebic Taconite officials have put their plans on hold until state lawmakers can guarantee a clear end point in the state’s complex mine permitting process. Assembly Republicans introduced a 183-page bill earlier this month packed with permitting changes, including a requirement that state regulators approve or deny a mine application within 360 days.

Republicans who control the Assembly jobs committee held a public hearing on the measure Dec. 14 in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb 300 miles from the mine site. Environmentalists and other mine opponents contended Republicans wanted to discourage people who would be most affected by the mine from voicing their concerns.

GOP leaders countered they held a hearing on general mining issues in Hurley, near the site, in October. The bill hadn’t been introduced at that point, however.

Republicans also said West Allis made sense because several heavy equipment manufacturers that would benefit from the mine are based in southeastern Wisconsin. A state Senate committee studying state mining regulations could choose to hold a hearing in northwestern Wisconsin, they added.

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