Debate over mining legislation continues - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Debate over mining legislation continues

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GREEN BAY (WAOW)-- A hotly contested mining proposal took center stage in Green Bay Thursday night, as people packed a room at UW-Green Bay to hear about the environmental impacts of a new mining bill backed by Assembly Republicans.

Both conservationists and lawmakers said there is a lot at stake for Wisconsin. It's a debate over jobs and the environment, and how to make both a priority is where both sides disagree.

"The legislation that has been introduced so far in the legislative session, AB 426, is a unprecedented attack on our natural resource and environment protections," said Jennifer Giegerich with the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Environmentalists said Assembly Republicans are catering to mining companies by removing environmental standards. "It totally undercuts citizens' ability to weigh in on decisions that impact their communities," said Giegerich.

Democratic Senator Jim Holperin said he believes it's possible to attract mining companies without sacrificing safety. That's why he's backing a new bill that would keep environmental protections intact, while streamlining the permit process. 

"I support mining in Wisconsin so long as it is done environmentally correctly," he told Newsline 9.

The new piece of legislation was proposed on Tuesday and has some bipartisan support, but a group of Assembly Republicans said Thursday that they oppose the new plan, saying it contains ideas lawmakers have already voted against.

When asked about mining legislation in the state, Governor Scott Walker said, "We can get to a point where we can have a majority of people in the State Senate and people in the State Assembly can be satisfied that you have a process that's streamlined, but still guarantees safe and environmentally sound mining."

But government officials warn too much regulation could turn mining companies away. 

"I think we can get to most if not all of those and still do so in a way that there will actually be jobs associated with it," said Walker.

Conservationists told a group at UW-Green Bay Thursday that current environmental regulations are strong and that the latest proposal protects them, while making it easier for companies to get a permit.

"It does streamline the process, which has been the biggest complaint," said Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation George Meyer.

But it looks like gridlock as both sides stake out their positions. Senator Holperin hopes both sides can compare the two proposals and reach a compromise. "I believe that there is room for dialogue now over the next couple of weeks," he said.

Assembly Republicans who oppose the new piece of regulation say they are open to working with the Senate on a compromise that will ensure the future of mining in Wisconsin.

Online Reporter: Bonnie Shelton

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