RHINELANDER - Gov. Scott Walker (R) says he wouldn't oppose involvement by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the state permitting process for a proposed iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills. |
Northern Wisconsin's six Chippewa tribes want to go around the state's mining regulation process and turn to the EPA.
The tribes say they can't rely on Wisconsin's regulatory process to protect fish, wildlife, wild rice, or water quality in northern Wisconsin.
The tribe hopes the agency will stop a four mile long proposed iron mine in Iron and Ashland counties.
Walker said at a campaign event in Rhinelander on Wednesday that isn't opposed to EPA as long as their involvement wouldn't be political because he believes the state's mining process would pass any federal inspection.
"It's one of those (things) where we wanted to have a process for safely and environmentally sound mining," Walker said. "We think if the EPA is actually using science based technologies, then ultimately we believe you can both have the operation."
Republicans passed a mining bill signed by Gov. Walker in March 2013 that paved the way for the mining operation. The partisan bill was seen by Democrats as a piece of legislation that weakened environmental safeguards. Republicans argued it cut bureaucratic red tape and simplified the states permitting process.
Gogebic Taconite wants to dig the mine. It would be the largest iron ore mine in North America.
Leaders for the project say it could bring more than 500 permanent jobs to the area that is lagging behind the rest of the state in employment.
According to May unemployment statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Iron County has 11.3 percent unemployment, while Ashland County has an 8.5 percent unemployment rate. Those rank 70th and 71st out of Wisconsin's 72 counties. Menominee County has the state's worst unemployment rate at 15.1 percent.
Governor Walker believes the mine would benefit more than just those counties.
"In the end, for the people particularly in Iron and Ashland County, and also all throughout the state of Wisconsin, who would benefit from both the jobs and the construction, the jobs related to the ongoing operations for many cases are generational," Walker said.
Leaders from Gogebic Taconite and the Wisconsin DNR are working on a multimillion dollar environmental impact study right now. Gogebic Taconite is paying for EIS project.