Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has recently set into motion two separate actions which are concerning environmentalists in the state, making business building permits more easily attainable and allowing for less public commentary on the process.
The first action, approved by lawmakers in April, eliminated the need for the DNR to conduct environmental assessments in correlation with air pollution control and waterway altering, making it easier for businesses to follow through with mineral extraction and building projects.
And in August, the DNR used a new emergency rule-making process to exclude more permit requests from review, meaning less ability for the public to be aware of environmental policy changes.
Since Wisconsin is the leading exporter of industrial frac sand, community members are concerned about what this new lack of oversight will mean for the environment.
“The DNR’s sweeping changes to its Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act procedural rules are a significant setback to public participation and transparency,” said Sarah Williams, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law center. “By getting rid of the environmental assessment process for numerous agency actions, the DNR provides less information to the public and limits the opportunity for public input for some of these actions.”
The Midwest Environmental Advocates have put together a 29-page online petition, signed by 800 people, to address the issues caused by these changes. They plan to address members of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board at its October 29 meeting.
Walker’s motivation for these law changes seems to have been to “create more jobs and economic opportunity,” and for some—most notably businesses—this is seen as a positive move. “There have been real significant strides,” said Eric Bott, director of environmental and energy policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group. “Huge improvements from a regulatory perspective…over the last four years.”
For many others, however, the changes are simply more evidence of an administration that cares very little about the environment. “There has been a significant reduction in the emphasis on protecting the environment in the state,” said George Meyer, who was secretary of the Department of Natural Resources from 1993 to 2001.