Tag Archives: air pollution standards

After four years, Wisconsin GOP forced to adopt air pollution standards

After four years of Republican defiance and a lawsuit, the state Department of Natural Resources is finally ready to adopt federal air pollution standards.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published new limits on fine particulate matter in January 2013. Wisconsin law requires the DNR to adopt rules matching EPA standards to ensure state permits meet federal requirements but the Republican-controlled agency didn’t do it.

Environmental groups Clean Wisconsin and the Midwest Environmental Defense Center sued in 2014 to force the agency to comply.

The groups and the DNR quietly settled the lawsuit last year with an agreement calling for the DNR to get rules reflecting the federal standards into state code by March 31, 2017. Agency officials have now drafted the regulations and the DNR board is expected to adopt them at a Dec. 14 meeting and forward them to Gov. Scott Walker. If he signs off and no lawmakers object, the rules would likely go into effect in late March.

“We’re glad to see DNR finally adding these health-based air quality protections to help address the many respiratory illnesses like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema that many Wisconsin residents face,” said Amber Meyer-Smith, Clean Wisconsin’s government relations director. “It’s unfortunate that the DNR needs to be compelled to add these protections, but we’re glad they’re complying with the settlement timelines.”

DNR officials said at the time the lawsuit was filed that they were working on drafting the rules but it was slow-going because the rule-making process requires the DNR to analyze the standards’ economic impact. Agency spokesman Andrew Savagian said this week that Walker authorized the DNR to begin work on the rule in June 2015. He had no immediate comment on why work didn’t start until the settlement was reached.

Fine particulate matter is a mix of small particles and liquid droplets made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles often found near roads, dusty industries or in smoke from forest fires or power plants. The particles can pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs, causing health problems, according to the EPA. The federal rules revised the annual standard for the amount of particulate matter allowable in the air from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter.

DNR officials wrote in a Nov. 7 memo to Secretary Cathy Stepp that all areas of the state are currently within the new standards. They solicited information about what effect adopting the federal standards would have on businesses and particulate matter sources from more than 1,600 stationary sources in Wisconsin and a half-dozen business associations, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch Republican ally, and concluded the regulations would have little to no impact.

The 2015 settlement also required the DNR to adopt tighter restrictions the EPA set in 2010 for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. The DNR sent those rules to the Legislature in April 2015, shortly before the settlement was approved. They went into effect this August.

Savagian said that rule took so long because it was the first one the DNR’s air program implemented under the economic impact requirement.

Sulfur dioxide is a gas produced from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities. The gas has been linked to a number of respiratory ailments, according to the EPA. Nitrogen oxide results from vehicle emissions and contributes to smog. It can cause airway inflammation and exacerbate problems for asthma suffers, the EPA has said.

It’s unclear how Donald Trump’s presidency and solid Republican control of Congress will affect the future of environmental regulations. Trump has vowed to get rid of all federal regulations, and the GOP already has shown a willingness to do the same.

 

Wisconsin environmental group urges state to reject Smart Sand application

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is calling on the state to reject an application from an out-of-state frac sand mining company that is seeking status as a green company.

The environmental group is calling on Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp, who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, to reject the application for “Green Tier” status from Smart Sand, Inc. The Green Tier program was created in 2004 to reward companies for superior environmental performance. To qualify, companies must have a demonstrated commitment to protecting the environment.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters says Smart Sand doesn’t come close to qualifying.

“Not only does Smart Sand not meet the Green Tier criteria, they are guilty of violating air pollution standards already. Awarding them with this special recognition would be nothing less than greenwashing. And that’s not going to sit well with Wisconsin citizens, past Green Tier recipients, or us,” said Anne Sayers, program director for Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Nearly 2,000 citizens registered their opposition to the prospect of awarding Green Tier status to the frac sand mining company. The DNR claims it received more comments on this particular Green Tier application than any in the program’s 10-year history. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters supporters alone generated 1,932 comments. 

Smart Sand, according to environmentalists, has a processing capacity of over a million tons of sand per year on its more than 1,000 acres in Oakdale. In the two years the company has operated in Wisconsin, it has received a notice of violation for failure to comply with state air pollution standards.

“The decision of whether to undermine the integrity of the Green Tier program or not rests in the hands of Gov. Walker appointee, Secretary Stepp. We join thousands of others in asking Secretary Stepp to stop delaying and reject the Smart Sand Green Tier application,” said Sayers.