GOP Lawmakers Want to End State’s Mining Moratorium

August 18, 2017

Republican lawmakers are planning to introduce a bill to end the state’s mining moratorium and open the door for copper, lead and zinc mines in Wisconsin.

The moratorium, which was passed with bipartisan support and signed by former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998, requires companies that want to mine sulfides to show two examples of mines that have been open and closed for 10 years in the U.S. or Canada and have not caused surface and groundwater problems. Sulfide mines, like copper, lead and zinc operations, run a higher risk of causing environmental problems because sulfides create sulfuric acid when they are exposed to oxygen and water.

In addition to dumping the mining moratorium, the bill, which is being sponsored by Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, and Rep. Rob Hutton, of Brookfield, would, among other things:

  • Loosen state groundwater and wetland protections;
  • Relax procedures for mining companies to take ground site samples;
  • Speed up the Department of Natural Resources’ procedures for reviewing and approving mining applications and permits;
  • Limit the ways the state can require mining operations to fulfill their financial responsibilities for reclaiming a mining site;
  • Exempt mine operators from solid waste disposal fees.

In 2013, Tiffany spearheaded passage of a state law that made it faster to grant state permits for iron ore mines in Wisconsin. The new law, which exempted iron ore mining from the moratorium, was sought and partially written by Gogebic Taconite. The company considered plans to build a large open pit iron mine in Iron and Ashland counties, but abandoned their plans in 2015.

Mining interests have contributed about $33,800 to current Republican lawmakers since January 2010. Neither Hutton nor Tiffany received contributions from mining interests.

Tiffany’s largest contributors between January 2010 and December 2016 were Trygve and Tula Solberg, of Minocqua, owners of Trig’s, $6,350; and Daniel and Lyn Corullo, of Ironwood, Mich., owners of Action Floor Systems, $5,050.

The largest contributors to Hutton, who was elected to the Assembly in 2012, through last December, were Oconomowoc retirees John and Jane Evans, $3,000; and Richard and Carol Bayerlein, of Elm Grove, owners of Bay-San Co., $2,800.