Tag Archives: Clean Wisconsin

Wisconsin DNR: CAFOs could write own pollution permit applications

Large farms could hire experts to craft their pollution and construction permit applications under a reorganization plan the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced this week.

The agency has been working on reorganizing since July 2015 to deal with a growing workload and the state’s tight budget constraints. DNR officials issued a news release this week announcing the plan, calling it a “strategic realignment effort,” but the release contains very few details.

The cornerstone of the plan would allow concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, to hire qualified consultants to craft applications for manure handling and construction permits.

The idea, DNR Deputy Secretary Kurt Thiede said, is to reduce the back-and-forth DNR staff currently engage in with farmers to get their applications up to speed, freeing up staff to perform more frequent permit compliance checks in the field.

Developers looking to perform shore stabilization work and pond construction also would be allowed to use consultants to help craft their permit applications as well. “They’re writing the information to help inform that permit,” Thiede said.

The plan mirrors a controversial approach DNR has used for wetland building permit applications for a decade — engineers and other consultants are allowed to help craft developers’ applications, said Jeffrey Voltz, deputy administrator of the DNR’s external services division.

The DNR plans to speak with stakeholders in the coming months to determine what qualifications CAFO and shore consultants will need.

A state audit in June found the DNR wasn’t following its own policies for policing pollution from large farms and wastewater plants.

The audit also found that the agency had been extending permits without review for years and that staffers lacked time to thoroughly monitor large livestock operations. Environmental groups were outraged by the findings.

Amber Meyer Smith, government relations director for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, said it’s unclear how allowing outside consultants help with permit applications might change things for both farms and the DNR.

“There are certainly efficiency measures included in today’s announcement, but a lot of questions remain,” Meyer Smith said.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of government relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the move would reduce duplicative work for farms and the DNR.

“You’re hiring a licensed professional to do his or her job,” Zimmerman said. “Those licenses have to mean something. The idea is to free up staff time.”

The overall reorganization plan will affect about 5 percent of the DNR’s 2,549 full-time employees, according to the news release.

Changes will range from position descriptions, reporting structure and division assignments as the agency moves from seven operational units to five, including Forestry; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Environmental Management; Internal Services; and External Services.

The Bureau of Science Services’ remaining 19 researchers will join other programs as well as a new Office of Applied Sciences.

A new bureau will focus on real estate and property planning and staff working on water-related sediment cleanups will be combined with staff working on soil cleanups. Thiede said the move would allow managers to more closely monitor researchers’ work.

The state budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed last year eliminated 19 researchers from the Bureau of Science Services. The scientists had been working on a number of politically charged issues, including climate change, pollution and mining. Democrats blasted the cuts as political payback.

The reorganization plan also calls for shifting 33 ranger positions into warden positions. Thiede said rangers spend little time on law enforcement. The move would still leave more than 100 rangers in state parks but they wouldn’t have law enforcement credentials. Some of the 33 rangers whose positions would disappear could apply for warden jobs or elect to stay in the parks without law enforcement powers.

The news release said the plan would be implemented in phases with final changes anticipated by early 2018. Thiede said some portions of it may require legislative approval.

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.

 

Snowplows powered by garbage? Dane County invests in renewables

Continue reading Snowplows powered by garbage? Dane County invests in renewables

Endorsement: Marisabel Cabrera is best choice for 9th Assembly District

State Rep. Josh Zepnick has won support progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood and Fair Wisconsin. But in this election cycle, we prefer his primay challenger, immigration lawyer Marisabel Cabrera, in the 9th Assembly District.

The reasons are multifold. Zepnick recently sponsored legislation that would have made it easier to privatize public water systems by making it harder for citizens to collect signatures for referendums on such proposals. That action cost Zepnick, a 14-year incumbent, the endorsement of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which has supported him in the past. Both WLCV and Clean Wisconsin Action Fund have endorsed Cabrera in this race.

Zepnick also introduced legislation that would have relied on debt collection from county residents to pay $4 million a year to subsidize the Bucks arena. Both bills were defeated.

Like many Republicans — and an unfortunate number of Democrats, as well — Zepnick has taken contributions from the predatory pay day-loan industry. He’s received a lot of support from electric utilities that have made it difficult to get wind and solar energy on the grid in Wisconsin.

Last year, Zepnick was arrested for drunken driving.

Perhaps most importantly,  Zepnick’s enthusiasm for the job of representing the district appears to be waning. Earlier this year, he ran in the 8th Aldermanic District’s primary race as one of two candidates seeking to oust right-wing Ald. Bob Donovan. It’s time for enthusiastic new leadership.

Cabrera, an immigration lawyer who’s been in private practice for a decade, said she’s long felt the public interests of the South Side district where she was born have been “under-represented” in the Legislature. She told WiG that, in the process of knocking on 100 doors a day in the district, she’s found that “people are super excited to have someone else running in this race.”

Cabrera, who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree at Michigan State University, said she believes adequate funding for public schools is a “civil rights issue,” since public education is “the great equalizer” in affording opportunities for all.

Cabrera serves on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, where she’s gained grassroots experience in police-community relations that is badly needed in Madison. She promised to be a champion in pushing for adequate state funding for public safety, including funds for training police officers. “We need to have collaboration” among police and citizens and to promote a high “level of mutual trust and respect,” she said.

Cabrera says “it’s no secret” that she is bisexual but has not wanted to use that in an “opportunistic” way to try to win votes. In a state where women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people are poorly represented in government, however, she would lend valuable perspective to the Assembly.

AFSCME Council 32 and Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters have endorsed Cabrera. Other supporters include State Rep. Mandela Barnes, former Greendale Village President John Hermes (current chair of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District), MPS board member Dr. Tatiana Joseph, Ald. Nik Kovac, State Sen. Chris Larson, Ald. Chantia Lewis and MPS Board vice president Larry Miller.

For more, go to www.cabreraforassembly.com.

See also:

Milwaukee needs DA John Chisholm

Rep. Mandella Barnes for 4th Senate District

State Rep. LaTonya Johnson for 6th Senate District

Edgar Lin for 16th Assembly District

Dane County court rules against DNR in CAFO case

The latest development in Kewaunee County residents’ drive to protect drinking water from agricultural pollutants confirms the duty of Wisconsin DNR to require monitoring for groundwater pollution.

In October 2015, Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed suit after DNR decided to ignore an administrative law judge order to require monitoring and an animal unit cap in a Kewaunee County Confined Animal Feeding Operation permit.

Late last week, Dane County Circuit Court ruled that DNR’s actions were illegal and that the agency overstepped its authority by ignoring the ALJ order.

In the case of Kinnard Farms, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ordered groundwater quality monitoring, a limit on the number of animals at the facility and other conditions on the facility’s wastewater permit to address widespread concern about groundwater contamination in late 2014.

Ten months later, DNR ignored that decision and stripped these sensible and necessary groundwater protection conditions from the permit, according to a news release from Clean Wisconsin.

Dane County Judge Markson wrote: “The laws that provide structure and predictability to our administrative process do not allow an agency to change its mind on a whim or for political purposes. The people of Wisconsin reasonably expect consistency, uniformity, and predictability from their administrative agencies and from the Department of Justice .…DNR had no authority to reverse (its own final) decision. Its attempt to do so is without any basis in law, and it is void.”

Responding, Elizabeth Wheeler, a staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said, “This ruling reinforces that DNR has an absolute duty to protect groundwater. The conditions in this permit are reasonable and common-sense protections in an area that is riddled with widespread drinking water contamination.”

She continued, “It is a fundamental duty of DNR to ensure that Wisconsin residents have a safe, reliable, and clean source of drinking water. The people of Kewaunee County don’t have that right now, and if DNR can’t require monitoring or other limits in permits, it will be impossible to locate the source of the contaminants, much less clean up the mess.”

Act 21 at issue

One of the issues in the case was to what degree 2011 Act 21 limits DNR’s authority.

Clean Wisconsin said industrial representatives have been trying to use Act 21 as a way to prevent DNR from requiring sensible permit conditions to limit pollution.

This law also is the basis for a recent opinion for Attorney General Brad Schimel that essentially stripped DNR of its authority to regulate pumping from high capacity wells, which is drying up rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands in some parts of Wisconsin.

“We are pleased that courts are rejecting the claim that DNR’s hands are tied by 2011 Act 21, and we hope this is the beginning of many court decisions that restore one of the most critical functions we rely on our DNR for: protection of our water,” Wheeler said.

The decision follows the release of 65 DNR-facilitated workgroup recommendations for addressing groundwater contamination in Kewaunee County, including increased CAFO audits by DNR and revised regulations for landspreading manure in sensitive areas.

Audit: Wisconsin failing to monitor wastewater

A state audit found Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources lax in monitoring large livestock farms, as well as municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants.

The DNR permits about 1,250 municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial wastewater treatment facilities and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It’s required to make sure those entities comply with permit terms, but the audit found the DNR didn’t consistently follow its own rules and at times violated statutory requirements.

The Legislative Audit Bureau report released June 3 found the DNR only issued notices of violation for 33 out of the 558 instances they should have over the past decade.

“This really basic and fundamental function of the DNR, it’s not working right now,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, a senior staff attorney at the environmental group Clean Wisconsin.

The audit also found staff hasn’t been electronically recording submissions of annual reports required of CAFOs.

Staff indicated they also don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be slipping through the cracks.

“I’m troubled and I’m concerned,” said Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. “As somebody that’s a strong advocate of clean water, I want to see a comprehensive program and not have a bunch of holes in it.”

DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency often uses methods other than violation notices to obtain compliance, such as discussing violations, even though DNR policy called for violation notices in all 558 cases in the audit.

Wheeler said if permit holders see there are no real teeth to enforcement, they have little incentive to comply, leading to further water pollution across the state.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp wrote in her response to the audit that the department has recognized many of the issues identified and has already established systems to address them — or is in the process of doing so.

Stepp, a former Republican state senator and close ally of Gov. Scott Walker, was an outspoken critic of the DNR before he put her in charge of it.

Cowles said the audit verifies there’s a staffing problem for permits and inspections, but he said it’s unclear whether that stems from cuts to the DNR that Walker included in the 2015–17 budget. A spokesman for Walker declined to comment.

Cowles said he’s asking the audit bureau to determine what funding would be necessary to supplement the DNR’s wastewater permitting staff and program operations. The committee is also asking the DNR for follow-up reports on many of the issues by Nov. 1.

“This is going to be one of those things that’s going to take a while,” Cowles said.

MISSING VIOLATIONS?

Of the 260 CAFOs for which permits were reissued from 2006 to 2014, 17 were inspected after the permit was reissued instead of before, violating statutory requirements.

Another 51 were inspected more than 12 months before their permit expired, which is too far ahead because conditions on the farm can change. Dick said of the 17 permitted before inspection, the DNR has found records documenting substantial compliance before the reissuance for 15 of the 17 and believes the remaining two were in substantial compliance as well.

The audit also found staff only electronically recorded 36 of 1,900 annual reports required of CAFOs from 2005 through 2014. Staff said they didn’t record submissions because of a lack of time. They also said they don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be overlooked.

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association government affairs director John Holevoet said just because staffing is an issue doesn’t mean DNR is missing violations. He pointed to the audit’s finding that the percentage of CAFOs being inspected twice every five years has increased from 20 percent in 2005 to 2009 to 48 percent in 2010 to 2014.

“I think there are some signs again that they’re doing a better job than in the past,” Holevoet said.

The recent audit is not the only documentation of the DNR’s problems.

In July 2011, the department received a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 75 issues with state law and administrative rules. Stepp wrote the department has resolved 38 issues and efforts are underway to address 31 others.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the organization wants the DNR to be successful with its program because it would much rather have the state agency issue permits than have the EPA step in.

 

GOP puts business, not science, in control of state’s water

Wisconsin’s expert environmental officials lack broad authority to regulate high-capacity wells, Attorney General Brad Schimel said this week in a formal opinion.

Schimel said, in effect, that business interests must trump any negative impacts on the state’s water supply in making decisions about high-capacity wells.

The attorney general’s opinion will dramatically reduce the Department of Natural Resources’ ability to oversee high-capacity wells, putting the state’s groundwater, lakes and streams at risk, conservationists predicted.

“It’s bad,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, senior attorney for Clean Wisconsin, which works to protect the state’s air and water. “It’s a huge step backward for groundwater protection compared to what we have now.”

The GOP and environmentalists have been quarreling for years over how much power the DNR has over high-capacity wells. The issue has grown more intense as more factory farms sink high-capacity wells to hydrate their herds and other farmers search for large-scale irrigation methods. Conservationists say the wells are depleting groundwater, lakes and streams, particularly in the state’s central sands region.

According to the DNR’s website, the agency currently reviews each high-capacity well application to see if the well, combined with other wells in that area, will adversely affect the state’s waters. If the agency determines the wells’ cumulative impact would be harmful, it can impose conditions on the well or deny the application.

A state appeals court ruled in 2010 that the DNR could take that approach, finding the agency has broad authority to regulate high-capacity wells and impose permit conditions. That decision prompted Republican legislators to pass a law in 2011 prohibiting agencies from imposing permit conditions that aren’t spelled out in statute.

The state Supreme Court upheld the appellate ruling later that same year, finding the DNR has general authority to police high-capacity wells. The high court didn’t consider the new law, because it didn’t become final until after oral arguments were complete.

Assembly Republicans have complained the DNR’s approach is too burdensome for businesses and has resulted in a backlog of applications. Looking to clear the path for applicants, they asked Schimel for a formal opinion in February on whether anything grants the DNR authority to go beyond its statutory powers.

Schimel, a Republican, wrote the responsibility for protecting the state’s waters lies with the Legislature, not the DNR. The Supreme Court didn’t consider the new law because it took effect after the justices handed down their decision, he said. Therefore, the new law takes precedence.

That means the DNR can’t impose well-monitoring conditions or consider the cumulative impact wells are having on an area’s water levels, the attorney general said.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who controls the DNR, is notorious for what environmentalists call his attacks on the state’s natural resources. He invariably prioritizes the needs of large corporations over conservation and environmental damage.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, issued a statement calling Schimel’s opinion “a victory for the people of Wisconsin.”

Louis Weisberg contributed to this report.

 

Walker gives green light to Wisconsin nukes

From WiG reports

Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a bill lifting Wisconsin’s ban on new nuclear plants.

Under prior law, regulators could not approve a new nuclear plant unless a federal facility for storing waste existed and the plant didn’t burden ratepayers.

The new bill, signed five years after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, erases the storage and ratepayer clauses from the state law enacted in 1983. That was four years after a meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania and three years before the explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

The bill’s Republican authors argued nuclear power is a renewable energy source and the ratepayer language duplicates other sections of state law that require regulators to determine that any new power plant won’t burden customers.

Republican state Rep. Kevin Petersen, in a memo introducing the bill, described nuclear power as affordable, clean, safe and necessary.

Proponents argue Wisconsin needs nuclear options to comply with the Obama administration’s clean power plan requiring energy producers to reduce carbon emissions.

That’s the very argument being made by Koch Industries and other fossil fuel giants who vehemently oppose wind and solar energy. The industry’s sway over Walker and the state’s GOP majority is widely believed to be the reason why green renewables in Wisconsin lag other states in the region.

Since 1997, the Koch brothers have personally spent at least $80 million persuading the public that climate change is a hoax, and Exxon-Mobil and other energy companies have spent many tens of millions more.

Meanwhile, environmentalists view nuclear energy as an unmitigated disaster.

“Nuclear energy is a distraction from realistic, cost-effective methods to reduce carbon emissions in Wisconsin: energy efficiency and renewable energy,” the Clean Wisconsin environmental group said in a statement on AB 384. “Nuclear is exorbitantly expensive and new plants take decades to get up and running.”

According to the Sierra Club, nuclear power has a huge carbon footprint, despite the carbon industry’s claims to the contrary. Carbon energy powers uranium mining, milling, processing, conversion and enrichment, as well as the formulation of fuel rods and construction of plants.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters also opposed the law, referring to it as the “Nuking Wisconsin’s Energy Priorities Law.” The group urged the public to lobby legislators against allowing nuclear power plants in the state.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter opposed the measure, as did the national Sierra Club, which remains “unequivocally opposed to nuclear energy.”

“Although nuclear plants have been in operation for less than 60 years, we now have seen three serious disasters,” a statement from the environmental group reads. “Nuclear is no solution to climate change and every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on truly safe, affordable and renewable energy sources.”

The Sierra Club’s nuclear-free campaign emphasizes:

• The issue of what to do with the long-lived waste created by the fissioning of uranium remains unresolved.

• Uranium mining has contaminated large sections of the southwestern United States and many other areas in the world.

• Older nuclear plants sit in areas more densely populated than when they were built and almost all leak tritium and other radionuclides into groundwater.

• Newer nuclear plants remain expensive and need enormous amounts of water.

An additional concern in Wisconsin, according to the Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free Coalition, is passage of the pro-nuclear bill could lead to the state becoming a depository for nuclear waste.

The coalition has warned passage of the bill could “send a strong message to the Department of Energy that Wisconsin is open to hosting a nuclear waste repository. In the 1980s, the DOE ranked Wisconsin’s Wolf River Batholith as No. 2 for a second high-level nuclear waste repository. A 2008 Department of Energy study on the Need for a Second Repository listed Wisconsin as one of the top potential states based on our granite geology. After the cancellation of the potential Yucca Mountain repository, the DOE is desperate to find an alternative.”

Wisconsin currently has one operational nuclear power plant, Point Beach, north of Two Rivers.

About 15.5 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity is nuclear, 62.3 comes from coal, 13.2 percent natural gas, 3.4 percent hydroelectric and 5.5 percent renewable.

Find more environmental news at www.wisconsingazette.com.

Read also: Crisis continues five years after Fukushima meltdown

Settlement reached over mercury from coal plant

Clean Wisconsin, Sierra Club, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Public Service announced March 21 a settlement in a legal dispute over how much mercury can be emitted from a coal-fired power plant in Rothschild.

“The Weston coal plant emits toxic pollution, including mercury, which can cause neurological and developmental problems, especially in children,” Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney at Clean Wisconsin, said in a news release issued March 21. “It’s critical that a protective mercury limit is in place for Weston 4 to protect public health.”

Wisconsin law requires that newer coal-fired power plants such as Weston 4  limit mercury emissions to the maximum degree achievable. Testing of Weston 4’s equipment showed the plant could reduce mercury to 0.8 pounds per trillion British thermal units (lbs/tBTU), but WPS contested the limit, hoping for a far less stringent requirement.

Wheeler said, “Given all its health impacts, weak mercury limitations are not an option. While it has been a long road to this agreement, today’s settlement upholds the DNR’s more stringent limit.”

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can affect the brain, liver and kidneys and cause developmental disorders in children.

The EPA estimates more than 10,000 children born each year in Wisconsin are prenatally exposed to elevated levels of mercury, an exposure that puts them at risk of having lower IQs and reduced memory.

Also, according to Clean Wisconsin, every inland body of water in Wisconsin is under a fish consumption advisory due to mercury pollution.

“We support the DNR’s efforts to maintain protective permit limits,” Wheeler said. “Coal plants are Wisconsin’s No. 1 source of mercury pollution, and until they can be replaced with clean energy sources, their toxic emissions must be controlled.”

More about mercury & coal

Clean Wisconsin’s Enviropedia.

GOP lawmakers propose bill shrinking natural resource areas

Republican lawmakers began circulating a bill this week that would ease the regulatory path for development on bodies of water.

State Sen. Frank Lasee and state Rep. Adam Jarchow wrote in a memo to their fellow legislators seeking co-sponsors that the bill would facilitate development, leading to more jobs.

“This (legislation) focuses on cleaning up the agency regulations and state laws that have been making Wisconsin less competitive for both residential and commercial growth,” the lawmakers wrote.

Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, called the bill troubling and said it will lead to more development of wetlands.

“These appear to be pretty sweeping changes that are going to have a negative effect on water quality across Wisconsin,” she said. “There are ramifications to building in water bodies, to be sure. With the water quality problems we’re already facing, it’s not a time we should be relaxing our standards.”

Currently, the Department of Natural Resources’ board can designate a number of water bodies as areas of special natural resource interest where construction projects require permits. The types of water bodies include trout streams; surface waters identified as an outstanding or exceptional resource water; waters that contain endangered or threatened species; wild rice waters; wild or scenic rivers; and ecologically significant coastal wetlands.

Under the bill, the designation could apply only to portions of waters with endangered species, wild rice waters, coastal wetlands and wild or scenic rivers.

The Legislature’s budget committee, not the DNR board, would approve such designations.

The bill also directs the DNR to issue general permits allowing limited dredging on inland lakes and exempts permits for dredging man-made waterways such as cranberry bogs and stormwater ponds.

Projects that discharge materials into wetlands would be exempt from permits if the material originates from a roadside ditch or a stormwater retention basin. The DNR also would have to allow stormwater management ponds in waterways as a means for property owners to achieve nonpoint pollution standards.

Lasee and Jarchow also began circulating a companion bill that would overhauls a number of other property-related regulations. That proposal prohibits counties from enacting countywide development bans, requires that if a local ordinance is unclear a judge must rule in the property owner’s favor and prohibits local governments from restricting the ability of property owners to sell or transfer their titles.

The bills’ chances are unclear.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to an email.

Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, said Vos generally supports efforts “to strike a balance between private property rights and protecting the environment” but wants to take a closer look at the bills and talk with GOP members before moving forward on them.

Lawmakers are currently on their holiday break. Neither house is scheduled to reconvene until at least mid-January.