Taylor: "I'm grateful to my Democratic colleagues who made many efforts to make this irresponsible bill less harmful."
Throughout Thursday's daylong debate on the Wisconsin mining bill (AB1/SB1), Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) was the only Democratic representative to vote against every alternative bill offered by lawmakers in her own party.
"I'm grateful to my Democratic colleagues who made many efforts to make this irresponsible bill less harmful," said Taylor in a statement (PDF). "Ultimately, I voted against every version of the mining bill because I heard overwhelmingly from my constituents that they did not support the rollback of environmental protections or the current permitting process with which Gogebic Taconite never even attempted to comply."
At the end of the day, it was a strict party-line vote, with 58 Republicans voting for passage of the Republican-sponsored bill, and 39 Democrats opposed. Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford), who is running for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, was the only Republican to abstain. The bill, which also passed the state Senate last week by a narrow margin, streamlines the permitting process for iron ore mining throughout the state. It also supports the development of a large mine in northern Wisconsin run by Gogebic Taconite, a company based in Florida. Supporters of the bill, including Gov. Scott Walker, tout it as a job creator.
"On behalf of the unemployed skilled workers in our state who will benefit from the thousands of mining-related jobs over the next few years, I say thank you for passing a way to streamline the process for safe and environmentally sound mining in Wisconsin," Walker said in a statement.
But opponents of the bill argued that it puts the environment, tribal rights, and the health of area residents second to the desires of mining corporations. Sulfur content in the rock that is removed to reach the ore could run off into the wetlands and lakes around Lake Superior. Members of environmental groups and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose reservation is located downstream from the proposed mining site, have been protesting the legislation since it was introduced in January.
Sens. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) and Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) introduced another mining bill in January that would allow more time for the permitting process and more environmental protections.
Two alternate bill drafts, also called substitute amendments, that would have replaced the content of the entire Republican-backed bill, were offered at Thursday's session. The one co-sponsored by Reps. Fred Clark (D-Sauk City) and Mandy Wright (D-Wausau) mirrored the bill introduced by Cullen and Schultz.
"I supported consistent, fair mining legislation in Wisconsin," Wright said in a statement. "Unfortunately, SB1/AB1... is deeply flawed and not in the best interests of the people of central Wisconsin."
Democrats also introduced 17 additional "simple amendments" to make specific changes to the Republican bill, none of which passed.
The bill will now be sent to Gov. Walker, who is expected to sign it into law. The Bad River Band and environmental groups will likely challenge the law in court on grounds that it violates existing environmental protections and sovereignty of the tribe, whose land and water may be affected by the mine.
"Because we have not engaged all the stakeholders with legitimate policy concerns, like the Army Corps of Engineers and Sovereign Nation of the Bad River Tribe, this bill has the potential to cost taxpayers millions of dollars and end up in the courts for years to come," said Wright in her statement.