Wisconsin's Mining Moratorium Law

Legislative Briefs from the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau 

Brief 98–1 May 1998 

This first issue of Legislative Briefs introduces a new LRB publication that provides 

capsule summaries of major legislation passed by the Wisconsin Legislature. It will be an 

occasional publication designed to complement the Budget Briefs series, which highlights 

substantive program changes contained in the biennial budget and budget adjustment laws. 


1997 Wisconsin Act 171, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Tommy 

Thompson to take effect on May 7, 1998, establishes new environmental standards that 

mining companies must meet in order to obtain permits for mining sulfide ore in Wiscon- 



The importance of metallic mining throughout Wisconsin’s history is evidenced by the 

miner, pick and shovel, and badger depicted on the state seal.  The “Badger” nickname was 

applied to the lead miners who were among the first settlers of the Wisconsin Territory. 

In the past two decades, sulfide ore deposits in the northern third of the state have prom- 

ised increased economic returns.  Sulfide formations often contain large amounts of valu- 

able metals, such as copper and zinc. For example, the extensive deposit near Crandon 

(Forest County) which drew the greatest attention during the passage of Act 171, contains 

large amounts of both these metals. 

The refining of metals from sulfide deposits can cause several environmental prob- 

lems because this type of mining requires large amounts of water and the sulfur contained 

in the waste can create sulfuric acid that may pollute nearby ground and surface water. 

These and other environmental concerns united environmentalists, sportsmen, and local 

residents in support of legislation to require a higher standard for the issuance of permits 

for mining sulfide ore bodies.  Act 171 (1997 Senate Bill 3), passed as amended by an assem- 

bly vote of 91-6 and a senate vote of 29-3, extended the mining permit process to require 

applicants to present evidence that sulfide mines have been operated and closed without 

causing pollution to ground or surface water. 


The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issues mining permits in Wisconsin. 

Prior to the enactment of Act 171, all metallic mining operations, including sulfide mines, 

were treated alike in the permit process.  Section 293.49, Wisconsin Statutes, requires DNR 

to conduct public hearings on any proposed mine and grant or deny an application within 

Prepared by Michael J. Keane, Research Analyst 

– 2 – LB–98–1


90 days of the filing of the public hearing record.  A permit must be issued if: 1) DNR has 

approved a mining plan;  2) the operation will comply with all applicable air, water, and 

waste management laws and rules;  3) the operation will not destroy or irreparably dam- 

age unique features of the land or habitat needed for the survival of endangered species; 

4) the mine will not endanger public health or safety; 5) the mine will result in a net positive 

economic impact; and 6) the proposed mine conforms with all applicable zoning ordi- 

nances. DNR must deny the permit if the site is found to be unsuitable for mining or the 

applicant has failed to comply with any provision of state mining laws or rules.  A permit 

must also be denied if, within the 10-year period prior to application, the applicant has for- 

feited a mining reclamation bond, been convicted of more than one felony for the violation 

of environmental protection laws, declared bankruptcy resulting in the failure to reclaim 

a mining site, or had a mining permit revoked. 


1997 Wisconsin Act 171 creates new requirements for a company seeking a permit to 

mine a sulfide ore body, which the act defines as “a mineral deposit in which metals are 

mixed with sulfide minerals”.  Under the new law, before granting this type of permit, 

DNR must determine that: 1) a mining operation in the United States or Canada has oper- 

ated for at least 10 years in a sulfide ore body that has a net acid generating potential with- 

out a formal determination that it has polluted ground or surface water from the release 

of heavy metals or drainage at the mine site or tailings site and 2) that a similar mining op- 

eration has been closed for 10 years without the same type of formal determination regard- 

ing ground or surface water pollution.  In making its determination, DNR may not use an 

abandoned mine, a mine that has caused significant environmental pollution, or a mining 

operation listed on the national priorities list of contaminated sites. 

The requirements enacted in Act 171 apply regardless of the date on which the permit 

application was submitted to DNR.  This provision means the Crandon site would be in- 

cluded within the new regulations although the application was in process prior to passage 

of the law. 


For copies of 1997 Wisconsin Act 171, contact the Legislative Reference Bureau at (608) 

266-0342.  For more information about the mining moratorium, contact the Department of 

Natural Resources, Bureau of Waste Management, at (608) 267-7553.