Businesses seeking to mine copper, gold, and silver in Wisconsin will face dramatically higher costs and bypass an extensive list of prohibited areas under new regulations overwhelmingly approved this week by the State Department of Natural Resources.
The rules increase the costs of permits and licenses for the exploration and operation of non-ferrous mining, and require applicants to provide significantly more detail in their feasibility reports, operational plans and construction documentation. The changes together could increase project costs by as much as $ 502,000, according to a DNR summary of the new regulations.
The regulations are also establishing a new list of areas prohibited from mining, including designated wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, wildlife refuges, national wildlife areas, and areas with endangered animals or plants.
DNR officials said the changes were necessary to comply with a 2017 law lifting the de facto moratorium on non-ferrous mining. The regulations for such operations have not been revised since 1982, they said.
The board of directors filed the plan in December to allow the DNR to make technical changes to the wording and add a provision requiring notification of Native American tribes with reservations within 60 miles of a non-ferrous mining project . Many tribes fear that mining pollution will ruin their wild paddy fields and destroy the environment.
The board brought the rules back for reconsideration on Wednesday and approved them unanimously without debate at a virtual meeting. Only two people logged in with brief comments.
Tina Van Zile, environmental director of Lake Superior Chippewa's Sokaogon Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band, thanked the board for including the tribal reporting provisions and said she hoped the rule would protect the environment for future generations.
Robert Lundberg, an attorney for 10 environmental groups, including Midwest Environmental Advocates and Wisconsin Conservation Voters, told the board that the groups are still against the 2017 law lifting the moratorium, but the rules "strike a balance" given the limitations of the DNR.
The state's largest industry group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said last fall that the rules would make mining more difficult and expensive for no reason. However, none of the group appeared to be speaking at Wednesday's meeting. A group spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email.
The Democratic Tony Evers government or the Republican-controlled legislature could block the rules. It is unlikely that Evers will intervene as he checks the DNR. Mike Mikalsen, an assistant to Republican Senator Steve Nass who is co-chair of the legislature's regulatory committee, did not immediately respond to an email.
Nonferrous mining refers to the extraction of minerals other than iron, such as copper, gold, silver, zinc and lead. DNR officials wrote in their rules summary that they expect only one new project to be considered every decade.
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