Can jobs and environmental preservation coexist?
It’s a long way from Neal Kedzie’s La Grange Township home in his 11th state Senate District to the vast iron ore mining fields of northern Wisconsin.
Despite that, he’ll be spending plenty of time over the next year on issues related to mining in Wisconsin.
Kedzie, as chairman of the Select Committee on Mining Jobs, has become a lightning rod for those opposed to mining in northern Wisconsin and those who would like to fast track the plan in order to create jobs.
Gogebic Taconite would like to construct a $1.5 billion mine in portions of Iron and Ashland counties. Those plans are on hold, however, until the company receives reassurances that it won’t be drawn into a lengthy permitting process.
Kedzie was rewarded with this thankless task based on his years of work on environmental issues that landed him the chairman’s seat on the Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.
Kedzie might be alone in thinking he can satisfy both camps.
“I do believe you can successfully mine in the state and protect the environment,” Kedzie told a small group of Delavan business leaders earlier this month.
He was speaking at Lake Lawn Resort as a guest of the Delavan-Delavan Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and AT&T.
He covered a wide range of topics, from redistricting to Department of Natural Resources regulations regarding piers, but his work on the mining bill will have significant impacts close to home as well as statewide.
After covering Kedzie for years, going back to his tenure as town board chairman, he seems genuinely sincere in his belief that the two competing interests can coexist.
Get him away from the friendly confines of his home district, however, and people aren’t as easily convinced.
He learned that the hard way in October during a hearing of the natural resources committee on the proposed Senate Bill 24 to overhaul the state DNR’s water permit process.
After the hearing, Kedzie denied that his efforts to tighten the permitting process were directly related to the mining issue.
But what often is a lengthy permitting process in the state is at the top of the list of concerns that Kedzie says he’d like to fix, both with the DNR in general and in any new iron-mining bill in particular.
Kedzie says that the permitting process can go on with no end in sight, and that each permit adds additional delays.
His other concern is with the process called contested-case hearings that he says can turn into stall tactics by those concerned with the environmental impact of projects.
“You don’t want to cut the public out of the process,” Kedzie said.
Those two issues were squarely in the sights of the state Assembly, which unveiled its own version of the bill that day after Kedzie spoke in Delavan.
The Assembly version addressed some of the same concerns pointed out by Kedzie, including the lengthy permitting process.
Current law gives the DNR no specific deadline to approve the permit. The Assembly bill, however, allows automatic approval of the permit if the DNR doesn’t act in a specific timeline.
You can read the Assembly bill HERE.
Despite his interest in speeding up the permitting process, Kedzie is in no hurry to rush through a mining bill just to satisfy proponents of the plan.
Rather than trying to push through a plan on one side, or derail it on the other, both sides should make an effort to determine if there are ways to establish realistic environmental safeguards and run a large-scale mining effort at the same time.
Without opposition from those concerned about the environmental impact, there are no checks and balances to prevent bad ideas from becoming public policy. But if there is a middle ground, that’s the road Kedzie seems willing to travel.
Editor’s note: Dan Plutchak is an associate editor for CSI Media, publisher of the Janesville Messenger, Walworth County Sunday and the Stateline News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook.com/DanPlutchak or on Twitter @danplutchak