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Republicans to unveil changes to Wis. mining bill

Scott Bauer, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican lawmakers planned to announce changes Monday to the bill designed to make it easier to open a massive open pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin near Lake Superior.

Lawmakers said in a statement that the changes would be announced at a Capitol news conference that comes before votes scheduled Wednesday by Senate and House committees on advancing the bill. The changes would likely be taken up by those committees.

Republicans who control the Legislature, along with Republican Gov. Scott Walker, have been moving quickly to pass the mining bill, saying it will create jobs and boost the economy of northern Wisconsin. Democrats, environmentalists and other opponents say any jobs are years away and more environmental protections are needed.

Mining company Gogebic Taconite, which is looking to build a new $1.5 billion mine in the Penokee Hills near Ashland, helped write the bill.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder planned to be at Monday's news conference along with the bill's authors: Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst and Reps. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, and Mary Williams, R-Medford.

The four lawmakers did not immediately return messages seeking comment Monday before the scheduled news conference.

Suder and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Wisconsin State Journal last week that they would be proposing changes to resolve conflicts between state and federal permitting timelines.

As introduced, the Republican bill establishes a 420-day deadline for the state Department of Natural Resources to act on a mine permit application and allows one 60-day extension. But officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have said its permitting process takes at least two years. Democrats and other critics say those different timelines could result in separate permitting processes, which would raise costs and lengthen the time for approval.

Democrats, who have introduced their own mining bill, have called for lengthening the state deadline to two years.

Under the Democrats' bill, 70 percent of tax revenue on iron sales would go to local government, with the remaining 30 percent earmarked for loans and grants to businesses within 100 miles of the mine. In the Republican proposal, 60 percent of tax revenue on iron sales would go to local governments near the mine, with 40 percent going toward loans and grants for businesses.

The Democrats would continue to allow public challenges to be filed during the process, while the Republican bill would bar challenges until after the DNR makes its decision.