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.
THE MINING MORATORIUM
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 PERMIT PROCESS
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.
MORATORIUM FOR SULFIDE ORE MINING
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 MORE INFORMATION
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.