President of mining group pushes for broad overhaul of state regulations

Wisconsin Mining Association President Tim Sullivan says if legislators want to pass an iron mining bill next session, they should work off of the bill that passed the Assembly and the Joint Finance Committee earlier this year, but added that “it needs improvement.”

Sullivan, who was testifying before Sen. Tim Cullen’s Senate Mining Committee on Thursday, also said that the iron mining bill should not be the ultimate goal, instead pointing toward a complete overhaul of Wisconsin’s metallic mining laws.

“If the decision is to move forward in that direction, we’ll be collaborative, but that can’t be the end. We have other investors that want to invest in the state, and quite frankly, they’re sitting on the sidelines going, ‘Well, what about us?'”

Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said that while he thinks that they’re closer to approving a bill, he rejects the idea that the Assembly bill, AB 426, should be the basis for action next session.

“I think that’s a mistake, because if you go and you read through the language … maybe there was a reason for it, but none of us were a part of a common process by which we listened to an experts and then reflected into a bill,” Schultz said. “To me, the much more obvious course is just set that stuff aside, take a deep breath, listen to each other and begin to work on the things you’re talking about.”

Sullivan’s testimony also received some pushback from Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, who stated that some people in the caucus want to pass essentially a version of AB 426 as early as January.

Cullen, the committee chair, expressed confusion at Gov. Scott Walker’s statements of the need to pass the bill before the next construction season, saying that his assessment didn’t match the realistic timeline of permitting the GTAC mine.

“The Legislature can pass easier standards if they want, but it won’t speed up construction one bit,” Cullen said.

Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, went a step further, saying Walker was “delusional” if he thought construction could start next year on the mine.

Sullivan’s survey of other states — such as Alaska, Montana, Michigan and Minnesota — recommended that any reform to state mining laws focus more on scientific testing and coordination with the federal government.

Sullivan said that Wisconsin’s current law bases decisions in mine permitting on interpretations rather than strict scientific data. He also warned that any refusal to craft the laws “with an eye toward federal law” would result in multiple delays.

“What will happen in that process is … that the federal government will come in and take over the process,” Sullivan said. “That doesn’t mean that they stop the EIS process that you’ve started as a state, but they run a parallel process. And I can tell you which one rules.”