MADISON--(WFRV) The Joint Finance Committee passed a controversial bill Monday which would make it easier for an iron mine to be built in far northern Wisconsin.
Despite a 12-4 win, the bill is sparking debate among both sides.
Professor Al Gedicks, a volunteer with the Midwest Coalition Against Lethal Mining argued, "This is going to create a catastrophic health crisis involving mercury contamination of the entire Lake Superior shed.
Republican Rep. John Klenke of Green Bay said, "I am very confident that we'll be able to do this safely."
For nearly two hours Democrat and Republican lawmakers argued about whether to move forward with a bill that would allow mining company Gogebic Taconite to build a mine in Ashland and Iron Counties; an area where job growth is greatly needed and unemployment is in the double digits.
Author of the mining legislation, Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst said the bill would create thousands of jobs.
"There are 2,000 jobs that would be created which would last 2 years and then 700 permanent jobs at the mine itself that would be long term," said Sen. Tiffany.
Tiffany said the annual salary for these jobs would be anywhere between $70-80,000.
But Democrats and environmentalists worry the mine would damage air quality and leak harmful toxins into the water supply.
"Those heavy metals include mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. They're poisonous to people," said Professor Gedicks.
Rep. Klenke disagrees: "If I believed we were putting water and our air quality in jeopardy, I wouldn't have argued to support part of the mining bill."
Last year, lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill. But after much revision, budget chairs added guidelines that would require water testing and DNR regulated wells.
"We have a rigorous environmental review process that is in place in this bill that the DNR is going to have to follow in order to put together a permit," said Tiffany.
This is just the first of many hurdles for the mining legislation.
The bill still needs full legislature approval. It heads to the State Senate next, where lawmakers are expected to vote on it Wednesday.