GOP pushes new mining legislation

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GOP pushes new mining legislation

Premiere Date: 
January 17, 2013

Sen. Tom Tiffany explains the new mining bill he recently introduced to the Legislature.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Zac Schultz:

The mining bill is not a new issue at the Capitol. Last session a bill passed the assembly but failed in the senate by a single vote when Republican senator Dale Schultz said it did not do enough to protect the environment. The man who led the bill through the assembly was Tom Tiffany who has now moved on to the senate himself. Senator Tiffany joins us from Minocqua.

Tom Tiffany:

Good to be here today.

Zac Schultz:

Let's get right to the first question. I guess the biggest difference between last year and this year is Republicans have a larger majority in the senate and no longer need Dale Schultz's vote the pass this bill, is that correct?

Tom Tiffany:

Yes, we do have an additional seat in the state senate and-- but I'm diligently working with people on both sides of the aisle. We believe we have a better product here as a result of reviewing all legislation and all testimony that has gone on with the public hearings put on both by Democrats and Republicans. And so we think we have a good product coming out here. But we'll be having a hearing on this next week, and we do want to hear from people if they have ideas that they think can make this bill better.

Zac Schultz:

Senator Tim Cullen, a Democrat, held a lot of those hearing and he says the Army Corps of Engineers will not accept your permitting timeline of 420 days. That certainty that you’re trying to provide the mining company that’s requesting a permit.  He says this will just result in the DNR being pushed aside by the feds and that Wisconsin will lose control in the process. How do you respond to that?

Tom Tiffany:

I'm anxious to hear what Senator Cullen has to say for an alternative to that. It is interesting, if you look at federal documents, the Council on Environmental Quality, they recommend that the Corps of Engineers be able to complete environmental impact statements in one year, including for major projects like power plants. And just reading through some of the documentation that I've seen from the Corps of Engineers, in terms of the document that they sent to Senator Cullen, they say two to four years for the permitting process. That's about what we have in the bill, is we're looking at 2 ½ to 3 years to be able to get to a permit.

Zac Schultz:

Now the main criticism of your proposal was that critics say this lowers water quality standards. I want to read a quote to you from the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Council and their analysis on  how your bill would treat wetlands. “The bill includes a general legislative finding... that use of wetlands for mining activities in a way that would result in significant adverse impact on wetlands is presumed to be necessary.”  So according to them, under your bill, it's presumed to be necessary to damage wetlands during a mining operation?

Tom Tiffany:

I think they have to point out, you have to use the terminology “significant impacts” as contained in the public trust doctrine. It’s also used in current environmental law. Because if you said that there would be no impacts, you could step on a blade of grass and someone could argue that  that's having an environmental impact. So you have to put the term “significant” in there. But it will not allow– One of the things we're hearing from some critics of the bill is that it will allow toxic waste to be dumped in wetlands, lakes, stuff like that, and that's clearly not the case. In this bill the DNR would not be able to issue a permit if any damage was done to a lake or river or stream.

Zac Schultz:

That word “significantly” is pretty important because I found it in a lot of spots in the bill. It talks about degrading water quality or the rights of landowners, and as long as this does not significantly impact those, then the mining company can get a permit. But is there a legal definition of “significant” or is it something for the courts to decide through a lawsuit?

Tom Tiffany:

Well, it is something that is used in environmental law when they go to the courts, and then they measure “significantly.” I would go to the standards. If you look at the standards we have in current law, whether it's air, surface water or groundwater, we're using those current standards. We've taken them directly from rule and statute and we've put them in this bill, so a permit cannot be issued by the Department of Natural Resources if those standards are not met. So we've applied the standards to-- we've placed them in this bill and they would have to be applied by the Department of Natural resources in deciding whether to issue a permit or not.

Zac Schultz:

Now one other thing has to do with cost. The bill caps DNR cost to be paid by the mining company during the permitting process at $2 million, for things like environmental studies, but if this process drags on for years, like the Army Corps of Engineers or critics say it could, will that leave taxpayers on the hook for any extra costs incurred by the DNR?

Tom Tiffany:

No, the Department of Natural Resources told us last year that, you know,  the original bill that was about a year and a half ago, talked about costs of about a million dollars. And that would include the environmental impact statement. Through the amendment process, we've gotten that to $2 million, in terms of costs, for the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR leadership says they should be able to do it for that, and also the company will-- the mining applicant will have to pay for the cost of the environmental impact statement.

Zac Schultz:

All right, we'll have to leave it there for now, but we will be following up. Senator Tiffany, thanks for joining us.

Tom Tiffany:

Thank you for your time today.


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