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Great Lakes Article:

Mining firms get too much leeway, engineer says

Associated Press Last Updated: 02/19/2002

Madison - Mining companies have received special treatment under Wisconsin's regulations for hazardous waste and groundwater quality, an environmental engineer said Tuesday.

Robert Ham, a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said legislators should pass a law barring the state Department of Natural Resources from exempting mining companies from those rules.

"Mining waste should be treated exactly the same as other waste," Ham told the Assembly Environment Committee.

Current law allows the DNR to exempt mining companies as long as the exemption doesn't violate state or federal law or pose a threat to public health, safety or the environment.

The bill would require state officials to regulate the byproducts of mining, processing and refining ores and minerals as hazardous waste, if they have the characteristics of hazardous waste.

But Ray Carey, a lobbyist for Nicolet Minerals Co., which wants to develop a mine near Crandon, said mining companies don't get special treatment and there are no loopholes in state environmental laws.

Regulations governing mining have gotten tougher over the years, and mining companies must meet strict standards before being granted permits, he said.

Carey said the legislation is a "one-size-fits-all approach to hazardous waste management" that won't work for tailings, the byproducts of mining.

Nicolet Minerals is still awaiting state, federal and local permits to mine 55 tons of zinc and copper ore in northern Wisconsin. Environmentalists oppose the mine, saying toxic chemicals from it will damage the environment.

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