By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers tried to persuade a legislative committee on 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 that 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 now 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 lawyers for the state Legislature 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 would last only a decade and give the governor 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 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 a state auditors’ report from 2004, 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.
Democrats on the committee complained the bill would leave hundreds of pollutants unregulated unless the DNR writes new regulations, possibly putting people’s health at risk.
“This would wipe everything away and we’d have to start over from scratch,” said Rep. Jimmy Anderson of Madison. “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 affect the entire country and allows states to set limits on pollutants that present local or state-specific troubles. 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 bill from Kremer calling 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 safe ozone levels. Such areas are subject to federal regulations that can put conditions on construction projects and changing chemical formulas for products such as paint. Such areas also must create a plan for meeting ozone standards.
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.