Updated: Honadel Optimistic That Mining Solution Can Be Found
But Oak Creek's state representative says local Democrats must be responsive to job opportunities in southeastern Wisconsin.
Update 7:45 a.m. Wednesday: Gogebic Taconite announced it is ending its plan to invest in a Wisconsin mine following the Senate vote Tuesday. Company President Bill Williams said in a statement: "Senate rejection of the mining reforms in Assembly Bill 426 sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message."
Despite the back-and-forth over the last several days that has put new mining legislation in jeopardy, state Rep. Mark Honadel said Tuesday he remains hopeful a solution can be reached.
Honadel supported the Assembly version of the bill, which aims to streamline the mining permit process. That bill passed in January. In an editorial on Oak Creek Patch, he said it was part of Wisconsin's "trifecta of jobs" and would spark economic growth around the state.
But the legislation has since run into roadblocks in the Senate, where Republicans have a 17-16 advantage. Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz has withheld support of the bill, and his attempts at a compromise have been rejected.
Honadel said a lot of work between the state Department of Natural Resources, regulators and businesses went into the Assembly bill, which he called a "very good product."
"I'm not particularly pleased with what's going on in the Senate," Honadel said.
Can agreement be reached in time?
Honadel and other supporters say the proposal makes it easier for iron ore mines to be approved and comes on the heels of Gogebic Taconite proposing a $1.5 billion mine in Ashland.
Opponents of the legislation have criticized the bill's potential environmental impact. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, one sticking point for Schultz is the public's right to challenge a mining permit application through what's known as a contested hearing.
The Legislative session ends March 15, and with the two sides still unable to find common ground, media reports over the last several days have indicated the bill might be "dead."
But Honadel disputed that characterization, saying a number of divisive issues in the past looked like they wouldn't get resolved, only to have a solution passed in time.
He also said Gogebic's announcement Monday of a tentative agreement reached with unions to use organized labor could be a "game-changer."
"I have a strong feeling … we're going to reach some compromise," he said, adding, "I think the magnitude of this project is so big truly wish it would have been more bipartisan."
Honadel spoke with Patch just a few hours before the state Senate narrowly defeated a version of the bill passed by the Joint Finance Committee on Monday. The Senate sent the bill back to a legislative committee for more work.
Honadel challenges Democrats
Honadel said some opponents of the bill are working against it simply because its passage would be a win for Gov. Scott Walker, who is facing a likely recall election this summer.
He called on Democratic state senators from southeastern Wisconsin -- including Chris Larson, who represents Oak Creek -- to step up on a solution because it could impact thousands of people in the region who work in mining equipment.
The bill, Honadel said, would not only create jobs in northern Wisconsin, it would also "sustain and maybe improve" employment for about 11,000 workers in southeastern Wisconsin, at places including Oak Creek-based Caterpillar.
"Jobs and people's families are a million times more important" than politics, Honadel said.
Larson has voiced some concerns about the bill but also held out hope that a compromise can be reached. After the Senate voted Tuesday evening, he wrote that he supports the proposal floated by Schultz and state Sen. Bob Jauch.
"It is my hope that (the) Legislature will listen to neighbors and experts during the process and craft a bill that strikes a balance between job creation and environmental safeguards," he said in his weekly newsletter Feb. 23.