Wisconsin GOP tells committee to end air pollution rules
MADISON — Republican lawmakers tried to persuade a legislative committee Tuesday to approve a bill that would relax Wisconsin's air pollution regulations, saying the rules burden businesses and the state regulates hundreds of pollutants the federal government ignores.
The bill would repeal any state air pollution rules that go beyond federal regulations by the end of 2018. The state currently regulates hundreds more air pollutants than the federal government. It's unclear exactly how many. State auditors in 2004 put the number at 293 but the Legislature's attorneys say it's actually 358 pollutants.
The legislation would allow the Department of Natural Resources to promulgate new rules that go beyond federal regulations. Those rules would last only a decade and the governor would play a huge role in what ends up on any new list. All state agencies must get permission from the governor's office before they can begin drafting administrative rules and regulations.
The bill's authors, Rep. Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum and Sen. Duey Stroebel of Saukville, told the Assembly's Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations during a public hearing on the bill that the proposal is aimed at reducing the regulatory burden on businesses. They noted that according to state auditors' 2004 report 94 of the pollutants on the state list aren't even emitted in the state.
"We leave it in the DNR's lap to decide what should or should not be regulated," Kremer told the committee. "We're getting rid of regulation that potentially doesn't need to be on the books anymore."
Neither Kremer nor Stroebel could supply any examples of businesses suffering under the state's current air pollution regulations.
Committee Democrats complained the bill would leave hundreds of pollutants unregulated unless and until the DNR writes new regulations, potentially putting people's health at risk.
"This would wipe everything away and we'd have to start over from scratch," Rep. Jimmy Anderson of Madison said. "Why sweep (the existing regulations) away and then have them do it again?"
Sara Barry, a lobbyist for Clean Wisconsin, told the committee that the federal government regulates pollutants that typically impact the entire country and allows states to set limits on pollutants that present local or state-specific problems. She stressed that removing the pollutants from the DNR's list would end reporting requirements, leaving the state in the dark about how much pollution is actually in the air.
"We should not defy common sense and go back to the drawing board," she said.
Clean Wisconsin, The American Lung Association, the state Sierra Club chapter and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters have all registered against the bill. The American Petroleum Institute, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Paper Council have registered in support.
The committee also took comments on another Kremer bill that calls for shutting down an ozone monitor in Sheboygan County's Kohler-Andre State Park on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Vebber said the monitor picks up ozone that drifts north from Chicago, forcing the county into non-attainment status. That's a federal designation for areas that exceed healthy ozone levels. Such areas are subject to tighter federal regulations ranging from requiring companies looking to expand to install emission reduction equipment to changing chemical formulas for products such as paint.
Vebber said another monitor further inland shows the county meets federal standards. Barry argued the monitor provides valuable ozone data for the entire southern Great Lakes region.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would have to approve shutting the monitor down even if the bill becomes law.
Ozone, commonly known as smog, can cause coughing, throat irritation and worsen asthma and other respiratory ailments.