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Overview of metallic mining in Wisconsin

Metallic mining has occurred in Wisconsin since the time of the Copper Culture about 2,000-5,000 years ago. Mining for metals such as copper, lead, iron and zinc shaped the history of several regions of Wisconsin and played a major role in the development of Wisconsin as a state.

While mining can be an economic boon for communities and states, it also has the potential to seriously harm natural resources. The state recognized that potential and began to specifically regulate the environmental aspects of metallic mining with the passage of the state's first comprehensive mining law in 1974.

The DNR is the state agency with primary responsibility for regulating environmental aspects of metallic mining activities. Within DNR, the Waste and Materials Management Program has the lead role in reviewing applications for mining permits. The Bureau of Science Services has the lead role in coordinating the required environmental impact analysis of a proposed mining project. Mining operations may also require permits from the DNR's Watershed Management, Drinking Water and Groundwater and Air Management programs. Specialists from a number of other programs - for example, Fisheries, Wildlife and Forestry - are also involved in the review of any major mining project.

Current metallic mining prospects

Companies are exploring a number of potential mine sites in Wisconsin.

Mine approval process

For mining projects, the permitting process can take several years. Before a mining permit may be issued, an applicant must provide the DNR with considerable information about the proposed project. Metallic mining construction and development may proceed only if the DNR grants a mining permit with its approval of the environmental monitoring, mining and reclamation plans. The applicant may also need to apply for permits from other regulatory agencies, such as the Wisconsin Public Service Commission or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

If the proposed mine is found to meet all environmental protection standards, comply with all applicable laws and receives local zoning approval, the DNR must issue a mining permit. If a DNR review concludes that requirements of any applicable state laws and rules could not be met by a proposed mine, the DNR cannot issue a mining permit.

During the mine approval process, the DNR works with many parties, including local residents, local officials and mining company officials. Agency staff often work closely with mining company officials and consultants, to familiarize them with state mining regulations, standards and environmental and public review steps, which ultimately will lead to minimized environmental degradation from a proposed project.

Because the DNR regulates mining in Wisconsin, it has no position for or against mining, but is responsible for determining compliance with all applicable laws, codes and environmental protection standards, and that all conditions in any mining permit will be monitored and enforced.