Under this bill, if the Department of Natural Resources issues a wetland individual permit to a public utility, DNR may not require mitigation unless the discharge authorized by the wetland individual permit will result in a permanent fill of more than 10,000 square feet of wetland.And you can bet that if the door is opened for utilities to not need a permit, private businesses come next. This is right in line with the “if Foxconn can do it, why can’t we too?” meme we heard from the pro-polluter crowd as soon as the Fox-con became law, and it’s also a main reason behind a recently-introduced bill that would get rid of the DNR permitting system on wetlands entirely.
Under current law, no person may discharge dredged material or fill material into a wetland unless the discharge is authorized by a wetland general permit or individual permit, or the discharge is exempt from permitting requirements. Current law requires DNR to issue wetland general permits for discharges to wetlands that are necessary for temporary access or waste disposal if not more than two acres of wetlands are affected, discharges for certain development if not more than 10,000 square feet of wetlands are affected, and for utility and highway construction and maintenance.
Seems fitting that this type of back-door deregulation is trying to be pushed through at the Capitol right after this week’s decision in a Dane County Court that said the DNR violated the state constitution by allowing mega-farms and other businesses to grab massive amounts of water for their own use.
A Dane County judge has thrown out eight high-capacity well permits the state granted to businesses despite warnings from its own scientists that the massive water withdrawals would harm vulnerable lakes, streams and drinking water supplies.State Senator Mark Miller observes that respecting and protecting the environment used to be something that all politicians in Wisconsin believed in, regardless of party. Sen. Miller (who’s been in the Legislature since 1998) since rightfully asks in the column, “What happened to Wisconsin?”
Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ruled that the permits ran afoul of a constitutional provision requiring state government to protect water for the public.
In the early 2000s, water bottling giant Perrier had a plan to open a facility in the central sands of Wisconsin. There was great concern for the impact this might have on our groundwater resources. High capacity wells in that area have a direct impact on surface waters. As we can see today, they cause lake levels to decrease and rivers to run dry. The threat of Perrier brought together Republicans, Democrats and Democratic Governor Jim Doyle to pass what was supposed to be the first step in protecting groundwater quantity. 2003 Wisconsin Act 310 was passed nearly unanimously, 99-0 in the Assembly and 31-1 in the Senate and signed into law by Governor Doyle. In the years that followed, bi-partisan study groups continued to look at the issue to determine what those next steps forward might be to ensure everyone has reasonable access to the waters of the state….
In the mid-1990s, the threat of a sulfide mine in Crandon, Wisconsin brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass the mining moratorium. This legislation, 1997 Wisconsin Act 171, was passed with overwhelming support, 91-6 in the Assembly and 29-3 in the Senate and signed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. Sometimes referred to as the “Prove it First” law, it simply requires that anyone wanting to operate an sulfide mine in the state of Wisconsin needs to demonstrate than another similar mine has been able to operate and close somewhere in the United States without polluting for at least 10 years. Because there has not yet been an example of a mine that can operate without causing pollution, Republicans now want to change the law….
In 2001, a U.S. Supreme Court decision, SWANCC vs. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, left all geographically isolated wetlands unprotected. In the wake of that decision, legislators in Wisconsin sprang into action. A concerted effort over a five month period led to Republican Governor Scott McCallum calling a Special Session to pass a bill which put in place state-level protection for isolated wetlands. 2001 Wisconsin Act 6 was passed unanimously by both houses of the Legislature. Since 2011, a number of proposals have chipped away at the 2001 law, but the latest, LRB 4115/1, proposes eliminating state protection for isolated wetlands.
What has happened to Wisconsin? Not that long ago, when faced with an environmental crisis, Democrats and Republicans worked hand-in-hand to come up with common sense solutions. I worked diligently with my colleagues on both the wetlands and groundwater laws during my tenure in the State Assembly and was proud to have voted for both. Now I see a new generation of Republican lawmakers, very different from the last, who fail to see the forest for the trees.
Doesn't this matter?
Well Sen. Miller, I think I have a good idea “what has happened to Wisconsin.” And it goes back to the case on high-capacity water permits that the state DNR lost last week. The reason the permits were “running afoul” of the state’s constitution in the first place was because of something our WMC-owned Attorney General did last year.
The DNR stopped considering cumulative impact in June 2016 based on an opinion issued by state Attorney General Brad Schimel. Schimel cited a 2011 law that prohibited state agencies from taking actions not specifically authorized in statutes…. (a law passed by the WisGOP Legislature and signed by Governor Walker)That’s exactly right. The GOPs are messing with Wisconsin’s environment because WMC, the Kochs, and other benefactors are paying them to do it. This starts at the top with the Koch-owned Governor, to the disgustingly partisan Attorney General, on down to the lowliest legislator who will vote the party line in exchange for campaign favors.
[Victorious Madison attorney Carl] Sinderbrand said Schimel and other elected Republicans were ignoring the Constitution in order to serve business interests.
“It is political decision-making and it’s done totally to protect the interests of people who finance election campaigns,” Sinderbrand said. “It’s government for sale, and the attorney general is as much an offender as anybody.”
And until people who live in the areas affected by the removal of these protections respond by removing these GOP puppets, the destruction of one of our few advantages will continue, with no benefit to anyone outside of a few connected profiteers.