MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A Republican lawmaker is pushing a new bill that would make life easier for mining operations in Wisconsin by scaling back local governments' mechanisms for regulating sand mines, barring local blasting regulations and prohibiting upfront payments for using roads.
Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said the bill is designed to provide uniform regulations so mining conpanies don't have to deal with a patchwork of ultra-restrictive local ordinances.
"When they get to a point where they're unreasonable, then you've deterred a business from operating," Tiffany said.
Opponents decried the measure as an unprecedented attack on local control.
"Senator Tiffany has launched an all-out assault on Wisconsin's tradition of local control that threatens natural resources in every corner of this state," said Shahla Werner, director of the Sierra Club's Wisconsin chapter.
Tiffany said in a Wednesday memo to his fellow lawmakers that he needs co-sponsors by Monday. Spokespeople for Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly didn't immediately return an email message seeking comment on the bill's prospects. Neither did a spokesman for Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
The bill would prohibit locals from establishing sand mine regulations under their so-called police powers — their authority to regulate health, safety and welfare. Imposing noise limits or limits on the hours of operation would be a couple examples of exercising police powers.
The locals could still regulate the mines under their zoning authority. In theory, they could impose virtually the same requirements as they could under police powers. Unlike police powers, however, new zoning requirements don't apply to existing operations. Tiffany said limiting regulation to the zoning mechanism would ensure local officials cannot change the rules in the middle of the game.
The measure would prohibit locals from regulating the use of explosives in mining, quarries and similar activities beyond setting hours of operation. Blasting activities would still be governed under existing state regulations, however.
That provision comes as Ashland County officials are preparing an ordinance to regulate blasting at a potential iron mine site just south of Lake Superior. County officials fear blasting would loosen asbestos in the landscape.
Tiffany wrote a law earlier this year relaxing state mining regulations to help the mine's developer, Gogebic Taconite. Ashland County Chairman Pete Russo insisted the prohibition targets the county. He said officials may reword the ordinance to remove any reference to blasting, instead prohibiting anyone from disturbing the ground.
"If we pass it, I don't know how they're going to get around (the language)," Russo said. "(Asbestos) is up there and it's up there in large quantities. It's fine if you don't disturb it. The minute you blow it up it's all over the damn place."
Tiffany denied the provision is designed to block the county's ordinance, saying a lot of mines and quarries blast and state rules would still be in effect.
Local governments also would be barred from collecting fees to cover road damage from companies before such damage occurs. Tiffany said such approaches are the equivalent of establishing toll roads. Locals could enter into contracts with users requiring them to reimburse the government for actual repair costs, however.
The bill also would bar local governments from passing their own water and air quality standards. Current law already prohibits them from setting their own environmental requirements, but Tiffany said some municipalities are testing their legal limits.
Messages left with the Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Mining Association weren't immediately returned Thursday evening.