At the start of the Dec. 6 hearing of the state Senate Select Committee on Mining, Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) praised the open process the senators have taken in looking at changes to the mining laws.
"Throughout this entire conversation, we have avoided this bombastic rhetoric that has begun to use inflammatory accusation about one party or the other being more pure on the right solution," he said.
But the period of calm contemplation of the state's mining laws is likely to come to an abrupt end when the next legislative session starts in January.
Republicans, who have a majority in both the Assembly and Senate, have pledged to pass mining reform next year. Gov. Scott Walker says he wants a bill passed in time for the construction season.
As a starting point, Republicans are using the controversial Assembly Bill 426, which was narrowly defeated by the Senate last year.
Rep. Thomas Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), who was recently elected to the Senate and just named chair of the Senate Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue Committee, says he doesn't know what changes he might propose to last session's mining bill, which allows for mining of iron, but not sulfide minerals.
"Me and my staff are in a process of reviewing that to see if there are any changes we should make," Tiffany says. "I'm going to do a real thorough vetting of what has been proposed."
Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), meanwhile, has been holding hearings in an attempt to craft a mining bill that could have broader support. His committee was formed during the brief period this year when Democrats had control of the Senate after the recall elections last spring. But they lost control of it again in November.
The ideas percolating out of Cullen's committee are much more moderate than last session's bill. The senators would establish a clear public review process with environmental standards, but still provide a predictable timeline with deadlines for the Department of Natural Resources to rule on a permit.
But their ideas would also likely be a bitter pill for environmentalists to swallow. They allow not just iron mining, but mining of sulfide minerals - metals that have market value but must be separated from their sulfide compounds, creating large amounts of toxic waste. Such a law would overturn the state's mining moratorium law and open up several locations to mining.
Cullen's committee is clearly trying to set itself up in contrast to the process that brought about AB 426.
Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), a committee member who killed the bill in the last session by breaking with his Republican colleagues, says ideas that the committee hearings have generated will now be put into a draft bill form.
"We're going to be open to changes, but we think the product and the process are superior to what 426 is and how it was developed," he says. "426 is so fatally flawed that…it will be fatal to any kind of mining in Wisconsin."