Senate Dems Seek to Salvage their Image with New Mining Bill

[Madison, Wisc…] After blocking a bill that would have created thousands of mining jobs in northern Wisconsin this past spring, Senate Democrats began holding a series of committee meetings on Tuesday to form new mining policies, they hope, can be enacted at the start of next year’s session.

Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) was made chairman of the Select Senate Committee on Mining after making a power play in July. Democrats had just taken the majority in the Senate, and Cullen announced he was leaving the party to become an independent. That would have cost Democrats the majority. They got Cullen back by the end of the week, after promising him two committee chair positions.

Cullen’s new committee is trying to form a policy on mining that will satisfy both the blue-collar workers who want mining jobs and the liberal special interests that don’t want mining at all. Cullen started Tuesday’s meeting by explaining what he hoped to accomplish over three meetings planned for this month.

“It has been my intention to kind of go back and start at square one. We have some time now in the late summer and fall. The legislature will not be in session, on this issue at least, until January,” he said. “In many ways, I look upon this as an educational session.”

The committee heard from three experts: Dr. Tom Evans (Geological Survey, Rebecca Graser (Army Corps of Engineers), and Ann Coakley (DNR).

Dr. Evans explained how Wisconsin was founded on mining, but over the years the industry has waned in the state. Those that seek to revive it face a tough challenge due to the current laws and regulations.

“I have worked with citizens in the State of Wisconsin describing the regulatory framework, because it is complex, it is confusing,” Evans said. “Citizens need help in understanding, when is a good time to enter that process and how can they influence the process from their prospective.”

The next meeting will be Thursday of this week, with a representative from each Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers set to speak, both sides of business (Corporate and Labor) will offer their opinions of current law and their vision for the future.