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Thursday, January 19, 2012

A million reasons why there won't be a mining bill

The environmental crowd is pensive these days, waiting to see what the Wisconsin Legislature does with the mining legislation that Republican legislators have cooked up, with chefs from the mining industry clearly present in the kitchen. Hundreds have testified at two different hearings against this bill. So too have supporters, but a public opinion poll last fall showed a majority of Wisconsinites do NOT favor weakening environmental laws for the sake of an iron mine.

The mining bill is the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to environmental matters, but there are also a couple of skunks in that same room that could do equal or greater damage to the rivers, lakes and land, all across Wisconsin. More on those in a minute.

The next act with that elephant should be that the bill gets passed out of the committee that spawned it, the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business. That's what Capitol watchers are watching for: will the bill get voted out of committee, so the Assembly as a whole can vote on it (where it will pass)?

Rat's guess: NO, it will not make it out of committee. Why? In part because of well orchestrated and passionate opposition to the bill, but also because Republican cash constituents got a lot of what they wanted with the skunks that have been passed out of committee.

And there's another reason they don't want to put it to a vote. But let Rat wax about those skunks for a minute. One skunk deregulates digging, dirt-moving, tree-cutting and so forth on land next to water. Ya can't let some dumb environmental law get in the way of a guy carving out a small harbor for his pontoon boat on a tiny lake. The other skunk is a trash-the-wetlands bill, whose authors believe you wreck a wetland where you want to put a truck stop as long as you get to make a fake wetland somewhere else where it will never bother developers.

These crappy bills HAVE been voted out of committees in both chambers of the Legislature. They will likely pass in both chambers next week and Gov. Walker will sign them.

So, Republican legislators can tell the home builders, the realtors, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other enemies of the environment that they delivered. Delivering for an out-of-state mining company is less important politically to them than keeping the aforementioned homeboys happy and their campaign donations rolling in.

But there's another reason Republicans would just as soon sit on a mining bill right now -- oh, make that about a million reasons. That would be the fact that their man, Gov. Scott Walker, will be recalled and put to another vote. The last thing Republicans want is to have a few pounds of iron ore hanging around the neck of Walker in a recall election, when the populace is at best ambivalent about a fast-tracked open-pit iron mine 25 miles from the beloved Lake Superior.

Walker has been pretty quiet about the Penokee Hills mine, other than to utter his usual "jobs" line. But a mining bill, foisted and passed by fellow Republicans, would wash up on Walker's shore in a recall election, and the GOP does not want to deal with that litter.

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