MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he'd be willing to consider tweaks to last year's stalled mining bill, as long as the new measure results in actual mining jobs in Wisconsin.
Walker said the goal of a new bill should be to create jobs, and any changes unrelated to that end would be unproductive.
"We're going to look to make a series of reasonable changes and improvements if warranted as long as they ultimately lead to a mine in the state of Wisconsin," he told reporters after addressing employees at Phoenix Products Company Inc., a Milwaukee company that makes heavy-duty lights for mining equipment.
Walker was flanked by a number of Republican state lawmakers, including Speaker-elect Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Suder. Earlier in the day Vos and Suder released a statement saying the first bill the will introduce this session will reform Wisconsin's mining laws.
"I'm hopeful all the interested parties can come together to protect our environment and make mining reform happen," Vos said.
Republicans worked last year to help Gogebic Taconite open a huge iron mine near Lake Superior. But the Legislature couldn't reach agreement on a mining proposal after moderate Republican Sen. Dale Schultz blocked a bill that had cleared the GOP-controlled Assembly. Gogebic Taconite of Hurley had been lobbying for the bill to make it easier for it to open an iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills near Ashland in northwestern Wisconsin.
Walker said he thought the Assembly bill would be a good starting point for creating a new bill.
The Republican governor said the company was prepared to invest $1.5 billion, and that the mine would create thousands of jobs — about 700 at the mine itself and an additional 2,100 in related jobs. But he added that in return the company would need assurances that regulations would remain consistent.
Environmentalists fear the mine would devastate one of the state's most pristine regions near Lake Superior. They've called for strict guidelines that would ensure the quality of air, water and soil in the area.
A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to craft a new version of the bill that Schultz and Democratic opponents could support.
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca said he wanted to make sure that any new mining bill have bipartisan support. He agreed it was important to move quickly so people could start going back to work, but he said the bill needs to broad enough to ensure proper environmental protections as well.
"We need to make sure the bill creates mining jobs and also protects our natural resources, as well as our tourism and agricultural economies that are so vital to Wisconsin," he said in a statement.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.
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