Cathy Stepp, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, said Friday that her agency would have been able to site an iron mine in northern Wisconsin without harming the environment and blasted opponents of a GOP mine permitting bill for "fear-mongering."
"As the debate on the mining bill raged, we all heard the hyper political language about the environmental harm that would result from the iron ore mine," wrote Stepp in a news release. "It was very difficult for me to sit back and watch. I was ever hopeful that calmer heads would prevail considering the $1.5 billion investment and the thousands of resulting jobs that the state could have welcomed while the environment is protected."
A bill that would have streamlined mine permitting was defeated in the Senate earlier this week by a 17-16 vote with state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, joining Democrats to defeat the bill. The bill would have set a 420-day deadline for the DNR to act on a mining permit and exempted the mining company from some environmental laws, such as those that prevent filling in streams or shorelines.
But Stepp said that under the changes, mining would have remained one of the most regulated of industries. She said the mine would also have had to be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and would have had to meet water quality standards set by the Bad River Chippewa Tribe downstream of the mine site.
Stepp blasted Schultz and state Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, and others who voted against the GOP mine bill.
"This issue just became another political piñata with some senators clearly displaying that politics is more important than getting things done for Wisconsin citizens. I wish it wasn't true, but unfortunately in the end the motivation to not allow a potential success for Governor Walker appears to be what really killed the bill."
Stepp's comments did not please Dave Clausen, the chairman of the state Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the DNR. He said Stepp has never talked about the mine legislation with the board.
"By law, the Natural Resources Board sets the legislative agenda and department policy," Clausen said. "Secretary Stepp has never consulted with the board on the mining issue."