The Wisconsin Legislature's budget committee has approved a Republican bill that would overhaul the state's mining regulations.
The Joint Finance Committee's 12-4 vote Monday sends the bill on to the full Senate and Assembly. All the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee voted in favor of the bill, and all four Democrats on the committee voted against it.
Passage is all but certain. The GOP controls both houses and Republican Gov. Scott Walker has touted the bill as his signature job creation plan.
The measure is designed to clear the regulatory path for Gogebic Taconite's plans for a huge iron mine near Lake Superior. Republicans maintain the mine would create hundreds of jobs for the region.
"If the mine is approved, then what we'll see is a lot of jobs," said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. "There's going to be a huge economic revival in this area. There is. And we're not going to do it at the expense of the environment; that's not what we're going to do."
Democrats vowed to continue fighting the measure.
"It might be a great deal for that mining company, but it's a raw deal for Wisconsin citizens," said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.
Democrats and environmentalists contend the bill would open the door for pollution that would devastate the pristine area.
"We really, really only have one shot to do this right here in this state and this bill before us is not it. There is overwhelming opposition. The process has been flawed. This bill is flawed. This is a bill that's been written by the special interests," said Sen. Jennifer Schilling, D-La Crosse.
The Senate is expected to take up the measure on Wednesday. The Assembly is expected to follow next week.