By Brendan O'Brien
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Republican Governor Scott Walker on Monday signed a bill intended to streamline environmental regulations and clear the way for a possible $1.5 billion iron ore mine in the far northwest corner of Wisconsin.
Opponents of the measure said it will allow pollution of lakes, streams and groundwater, and reduce air quality for the sake of jobs and the economy.
"After making substantial changes to the legislation, aimed at protecting our state's vital natural resources, the bill I signed into law today will preserve our tradition of clean land, water, and air," he said in a statement.
The bill creates an expedited process by setting a 420-day limit for the state's Department of Natural Resources to approve or deny a permit for iron mining.
"Environmental and conservation groups statewide are frustrated that the law has been signed, but we are motivated to stop unsafe open pit mining," said Dave Blouin, a spokesman for Wisconsin's Sierra Club.
Blouin added that litigation to stop the law seems likely.
Mining company Gogebic Taconite has planned a $1.5 billion mine in portions of Iron and Ashland counties in northwestern Wisconsin.
The company has said the project could create 700 mining jobs, more than 3,000 construction jobs, and $604 million of total economic benefits annually.
Officials with Cline Resource and Development Group, Gogebic Taconite's parent company, were not immediately available for comment.
The mine, if created, would be one of the largest in North America, according to the National Mining Association.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Greg McCune and Phil Berlowitz)