In 1975, the Department of Natural Resources codified a series of rules that has governed Wisconsin’s mining industry for over a third of a century.
Last session, and again this biennium, legislation was introduced to separate ferrous (iron) mining from other metallic mineral mining laws.
Iron (ferrous) mining is singled out because the process of excavating iron ore is different from other metals.
Extraction is done using magnets in iron mining.
Contrast that process with non-ferrous mining which uses chemicals to separate metal from rock.
Almost all taconite (low grade iron ore) mining in the country is done in Michigan and Minnesota.
Both states have laws specific to ferrous mining that streamline the permitting process while still protecting the environment.
On Jan. 14, 2013, the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Council released a memo explaining the differences between current mining laws and the changes proposed in the ferrous iron mining bill.
According to the memo, “Under current law, the process to obtain a mining permit lasts at least 2-1/2 years, and may take longer if a project is complex or generates significant public input. Several deadlines limit the time period within which DNR must act.
“However, several stages in the process – most notably the time periods during which draft and final environmental impact statements are prepared – are not subject to a statutory timeline.”
Note the last sentence.
Certain portions of the current mining law “are not subject to a statutory timeline.”
Instead of the open-ended time line the DNR had previously, they will now be required to either issue or deny a ferrous mining permit application no more than 420 days from which the application is administratively complete.
However, the bill does allow one extension provided it is mutually agreed upon by both the applicant and the DNR.
In other words, Wisconsin’s new ferrous iron mining bill primarily addresses process and timelines.
Contrary to misconceptions opponents are claiming about the mining bill, it does not allow for an increase in limits on emissions or pollutants.
The bill does not change environmental standards including air quality (Natural Resources 404), water quality (Natural Resources 102) or ground water/drinking water (Natural Resources 140).
Furthermore, the bill will not exempt iron mining from federal standards.
Lastly, the bill strictly adheres to the standards set in both the Great Lakes Compact and the Public Trust Doctrine.
Another misconception about the mining bill is it will enable applicants the ability to request exceptions from various requirements.
Actually, under current law and the new mining bill, applicants can already do so and the DNR is authorized to grant those exceptions provided they will not violate other environmental laws as listed above.
For example, in the case of the Flambeau mine (permitted under current law), the DNR granted an exception for the company to mine closer to the Flambeau River than 300 feet.
The only reason the DNR granted the exception is because they concluded there would not be a substantial negative impact to either public health or the environment.
As a member of the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining, I’ve thoroughly scrutinized the ferrous mining bill.
After separating its factual contents from misconceptions, I voted yes to pass the bill out of committee and will vote yes when it’s debated on the Assembly floor.