Wisconsin Streamlines Permit Process

Published June 1, 2005

In an effort to further the momentum of the state’s economic recovery, the Wisconsin Assembly on April 12 cut environmental red tape associated with the state’s clean air laws.

Separate Permits No Longer Required

By a 73-25 vote, the assembly passed A.B. 277, which streamlines the process of providing permits for construction projects. Under the bill’s provisions, companies will no longer have to undergo the lengthy process of acquiring a specific air pollution permit in addition to the mandatory general pollution permit. Companies still would be required to abide by all federal and state air pollution laws.

“This is basically clarifying language that helps the DNR [state Department of Natural Resources] help businesses in Wisconsin understand how to implement and comply with the current regulations,” said Rep. Jean Hundertmark (R-Clintonville), as reported by WISC-TV.

Creating Jobs by Streamlining Rules

The new bill is an extension of the Jobs Creation Act of 2004. The act, which streamlined many of the state’s environmental rules and procedures, “is credited with propelling Wisconsin into an economic recovery that has produced rapid job growth,” reported the April 12 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 31,000 new jobs, including 3,200 manufacturing jobs, were created in Wisconsin between February 2004 and February 2005.

“Wisconsin is poised to see an economy continue to flourish and continue to take off if we stay as aggressive as possible in tearing down obstacles on the tax front, and on the regulatory front,” Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Hustler) told the Journal.

“Rush to Judgment” Questioned

Opponents of the bill focused their objections largely on the assembly’s procedures in enacting the bill, rather than the content of the bill itself. The assembly moved exceptionally quickly in passing the popular legislation.

“If you’re going to do this last-minute notice, you’re shutting my constituents out of the process. Whether my constituents are right or wrong … I want you to listen to them,” said Rep. John Lehman (D-Racine).

Helps Economy and Environment

“Anything that encourages one-stop regulatory shopping is a good thing,” Sterling Burnett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, said. “Focusing society’s resources on production and job creation is always preferable to focusing them on jumping through hoops to achieve bureaucratic compliance. If a single permitting process can address air emissions as well as the other permitting requirements, then this will make Wisconsin a more business-friendly state.

“Importantly,” added Burnett, “in the long run streamlined permitting processes are better for the environment. By encouraging construction and job creation, streamlined permitting processes lead to more wealth creation. Research shows that the better off we are economically, the more we spend on the environment in the long run.

“Only environmentalists who simply oppose business for its own sake would oppose this law. Bureaucratic oversight is not a good thing in its own right,” Burnett said.

Bill Curtails Environmental Lawsuits

The assembly passed a related bill on the same day. A.B. 278, which passed by a 56-40 vote, prevents the state attorney general from prosecuting public nuisance suits against companies that abide by state environmental laws.

Governor Jim Doyle (D), who has indicated he will sign A.B. 277, has expressed some misgivings about signing A.B. 278.

James Hoare ([email protected]) is managing attorney at the Syracuse, New York, office of McGivney, Kluger & Gannon.