MADISON, Wis. -

The state Senate has approved a Republican bill that would dramatically overhaul Wisconsin's mining regulations.

The measure is designed to ease the regulatory path for Gogebic Taconite's plans for a huge iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior.

The GOP contends the mine would create hundreds of jobs. Minority Democrats counter the bill would relax environmental protections and open the door to pollution that would devastate the pristine region.

The Republican-controlled Senate approved the bill 17-16 Wednesday after nearly nine hours of debate. The state Assembly is expected to take the bill up next week. Republicans control that house as well. Approval there would send the measure on to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.