Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers are relaxing environmental regulations including laws governing iron mining and building on wetlands.
In Gov. Walker’s 2015–17 budget, released in February, he proposed eliminating a third of the Department of Natural Resource scientists and 60 percent of its environmental educator positions. The cuts were approved by the state legislature’s budget committee in May, and the budget is currently making its way through the legislature.
The changes have wide-ranging implications for the public, from fewer protections for lakes, streams and wetlands to less money spent on recycling programs, state parks and public land purchases.
The biggest impact has been at the Department of Natural Resources. As of this past summer, employment has fallen 22 percent to 2,199 filled positions since the start of Gov. Jim Doyle’s first term in 2003. Doyle, a Democrat, cut more jobs than Walker.
In a change from previous Democratic and Republican administrations, DNR officials rarely weigh in on conservation policies or pending legislation. Leaders of the agency say their role should be limited to carrying out the law.
Jack Russel, senior political science major said, “While I realize there are some environmental laws that are unnecessary, it seems like the senators and representatives are changing them without proper research or discussion with experts. I worry about the unforeseen consequences.”
By the end of the next year, all of the state’s air quality regulations are up for consideration to be eliminated. Assembly lawmakers held a public hearing on Tuesday Nov. 21. The DNR would have the option to reintroduce those regulations. All existing federal regulations would continue.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Duey Stroebel cited a 2004 report from the Legislature’s nonpartisan audit bureau that said Wisconsin regulates 293 more pollutants than required by federal law. Of those, the audit found 94 of the 293 were reported in Wisconsin in 2002.
Stroebel said at the hearing, “This just ensures that this list of pollutants that has just continually grown and grown and grown and some of them are obsolete and irrelevant. Now we’ll take a hard look at it and make sure the ones we really need to regulate we’ll be regulating.”
Under the bill, if the DNR reintroduces any of the regulations and they are approved by the Legislature, they would expire and be eligible for renewal every 10 years.