Environmental advocates often at odds
Recent EPA rules stir some local controversy
By Roger Pitt
I don’t know any End Stool regulars not concerned about the environment; in reality many are actively involved preserving and improving it for posterity.
There is a big difference of opinion, however, on how and where the decisions and enforcement should take place.
Often the issues cross the invisible line between the environment, commerce and land use. This is when people with similar reverence for the wonders of Mother Nature have personal views that often lead to controversy.
Recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules on air and water are at the heart of a controversy with states that have been enforcing rules, setting standards and protecting the natural resources.
Mark Beilfuss, a retired DNR warden, said, “It bothers me that the Wolf River is so dirty because of runoff. It is very visible after a rain and water from the Embarrass River flows into the Wolf.”
Randy Schrader, a Walleyes for Tomorrow advocate, “says strict rules are necessary to protect the Winnebago System fishery. It is a shame invasive species like the round Goby don’t raise similar concerns.”
Beilfuss said, “Without the EPA, the removal of PCBs and mercury from the Fox River would not have happened.”
Bob Most is worried about the EPA definition of a navigable water, that could affect “a ditch that is dry and not connected to any waterway on his farmland. It only has standing water in spring or after a heavy rain.”
Wisconsin has taken steps in recent decades to clean its air and water and increase renewable (green) energy. My assignments included the state Public Service Commission, which regulates production, distribution and price of electric, natural gas and municipal water; and the Natural Resources Board and Department of Natural Resources, which administers air, water and land standards and enforcement.
New rules by the EPA defining its authority to regulate navigable water upstream to sources that feed them are being opposed by small business groups, agriculture groups and real estate developers — which often have conflicting interests.
For them, the rule gives too much control over even the smallest bodies of water to the federal government.
A North Dakota federal judge issued an injunction blocking the rules in 13 states — not affecting Wisconsin — opposed to the shift of jurisdiction. Similar petitions in federal courts in West Virginia and Georgia were declined by the judges.
Clean water has been a goal for many generations, including elimination of agricultural runoff, containing phosphorous, into streams and lakes. It changes the ecology, enhancing plant and algae growth. Incentives also have been in place for shoreline protection, reducing the loss of soil and improving water quality.
New rules on non-point sources of water — such as rain — range from hard surfaces to farmland; business and industry to lawn care, and storm water to waste water. The state Legislature sent the first draft back to a DNR and state Agriculture agency panel for a second series of hearings. The administrative rules became law with no challenge.
This writer covered both series of local hearings as well as the Natural Resources Board hearings on emissions which include adopting new standards in mercury and other discharges.
A major controversy is EPA rules eliminating fossil fuels to fire power plants. The final rules require the U.S. power sector to cut carbon dioxide emissions 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. The overall reductions are stricter than those proposed in a draft last year, but states and utilities got more time to comply.
An energy consulting firm estimates the EPA carbon rule will increase the cost to consumers and businesses $41 billion or more a year, nearly five times the cost of all Clean Air Act rules for power plants prior to 2010.
The PSC and Natural Resources Board worked cooperatively to reduce power plant and industrial emissions of mercury, carbon dioxide and other elements and smoke/smog. It is an ongoing effort with higher standards as technology increases.
The PSC set a goal of 10 percent renewable energy source by 2015 for Wisconsin utilities. It reports the state in 2014 exceeded the 2015 goals for an eighth year, beginning in 2006.
WPPI, which provides energy to New London Utilities, led with 159 percent of that goal. This area’s largest electric providers, WE Energies and Wisconsin Public Service at 96 percent and 93 percent are expected to attain the 10 percent this year.
According to the PSC report, “Collectively, electric providers have built enough renewable facilities and procured enough power purchase agreements… to easily remain in compliance through 2020 and likely beyond.”
PSC estimates $2.3 billion has been invested in clean power to meet the state level.
Wind provides 63 percent of the renewable source, with 45 percent purchased out of state; hydro is next at 22 percent with 5 percent produced out of state. Biomass provides 15 percent and solar 2 percent, half from local sources.