Legislature Must Seize Opportunity to Create Mining Jobs

News Column
By Scott Manley, WMC Director of Energy and Environmental Policy

An opportunity to create thousands of family-supporting jobs was lost earlier this year when the Senate fell one vote short of passing comprehensive mining reforms. 

Wisconsin cannot afford to squander this job creation opportunity a second time.  Passing comprehensive iron mining reform should be job one when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

The proposed mining project in Iron County would initially create 2,000 construction jobs in an area of the state that has been economically depressed for decades.

Once the mine opens, roughly 700 full time jobs would be created at the mining site alone.  Another 2,100 jobs would be created statewide to support the mining operation, including positive impacts on world-class manufacturers like P&H Mining and Caterpillar, both of whom make the electric shovels used in the mining process right here in the Milwaukee area.

The mining jobs would pay an average of $60,000 per year in wages, with total compensation exceeding $80,000 with benefits – far in excess of the median income.  The project would result in a capital investment of $1.5 billion, making it one of the largest private investments in our state’s history. 

Unfortunately, this investment will not be made, and no mining jobs will be created, unless the Legislature enacts comprehensive reforms to our state mining laws.

Wisconsin’s mining laws are universally viewed as hostile to the mining industry, and have discouraged investment in metallic mining for many decades.  In fact, a recent study by the Fraser Institute found Wisconsin’s mining laws ranked the worst in the entire world for uncertainty that discourages investment.

For example, our mining laws provide no deadline for a decision from the DNR, meaning the permit process can drag on with unnecessary delays for years on end.  Moreover, many of the environmental laws that apply to mining are ambiguous, complex and subject to wide interpretation – it is often unclear what an applicant must demonstrate to receive an approval.

Adding further uncertainty to the process, our current mining laws actually require two lawsuits before the DNR can decide whether to issue a permit.  Mandating two lawsuits during the mining permit process is not the way to attract mining investment.

It’s clear that our mining laws are fundamentally broken, and are in need of major repair. 

The Legislature nearly crossed the finish line last session with a bill that would provide the clarity and certainty needed to attract mining investment to Wisconsin while protecting the environment.  Lawmakers need to pick up where they left off and pass the iron mining reform bill in January.

Much work and many compromises are reflected in the amended version of that bill.  Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel – it’s time to get the job done for Wisconsin families in need of work. 

Those in the anti-mining crowd continue to trot out their distortions and scare tactics about environmental impacts.  However, the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys confirmed that the mining bill does not roll back any water quality, groundwater quality or air quality standards. 

Indeed, the Wisconsin DNR has characterized the bill as giving them all the tools they need to safely address environmental impacts from mining both on and off the mining site.  The breathless claims of environmental devastation from anti-mining special interests are simply untrue.

Others may advocate for minor tinkering with our mining laws, while promoting the false hope that taking a minimal approach to reform will attract mining investment and jobs.  They are completely wrong.

Wisconsin’s mining laws are ranked the worst in the world for a reason.  Taking a half-measure approach to reform will not fix the problem, and will not result in the creation of a single mining job.

Clearly, comprehensive reform legislation is needed to pave the way for mining jobs in Wisconsin, and the Legislature was one vote shy of passing it last session.  No other bill presents the Legislature with a greater opportunity to create jobs and put Wisconsinites back to work.

It’s time for the Legislature to pass comprehensive iron mining reforms.  We cannot afford to delay this enormous investment in economic development and job creation.

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