Sen. Ron Johnson: Federal waters rules unneeded
Stevens Point Journal
By: Sari Lesk
November 13, 2015
STEVENS POINT — Business groups argued Friday against two federal regulations aimed at protecting water and air at a forum organized by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
Johnson held a field hearing at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to discuss the effects of the Waters of the United States rule, which attempts to clarify the definition of the country’s waters, and President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which regulates coal-burning electric plants.
The water regulations, established this year, were designed to remove ambiguity about which bodies of water are covered in the Clean Water Rule.
The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment against climate change.
Opponents of the regulations argue that the rules will cost the state jobs. Johnson said Friday that he is concerned about protecting the environment, but that those concerns must be balanced with economic concerns.
“If you want to solve so many of these problems, we need robust economic growth, and we’re hampering it,” he said.
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, WEC Energy Group and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation represented their perspectives at the hearing. The Wisconsin Department of Justice also sent a representative to discuss the regulations from a legal perspective. State Attorney General Brad Schimel has vowed to sue the Obama administration to block Clean Power Plan rules.
Johnson said he invited the EPA to send a representative but it declined.
Most of the speakers who testified Friday opposed the two regulations, arguing that the new water rules were illegal, overreaching and vague, and that the energy plan would negatively affect business in Wisconsin.
“This rule is bad for farms everywhere,” said Tim Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. “At very best, it lacks clarity. At worst, it’s a blatant over reach by the EPA and the Corps.”
Holte said it’s hard to know how many farmers will be subject to enforcement based on the expanded list of waterways included in the rule.
Speakers also protested the Clean Power Plan, arguing it would lead to increased costs of energy in the state and ultimately force businesses to leave the state or country because of the cost of production, noting that Wisconsin’s economy is largely manufacturing-based.
Proponents of the regulations say the federal Clean Water rule will not affect Wisconsin because the state’s regulations are already stronger than the federal government’s, and that the United States needs to show leadership in reducing carbon emissions.
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Executive Director George Meyer, who was previously secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the water rule will not affect Wisconsin because of the state’s already stringent regulations of water. He said it will protect the waters in other states for people who hunt and fish.
“We want to be able to go to those states and enjoy their waterways,” he said.
Concerns about the cost of implementing the Clean Power Plan may be preemptive, Meyer said, because in his experience the costs of these policies tend to be overestimated.
Johnson said he plans to hold a hearing in Washington on the same matters to bring the EPA together with Wisconsin stakeholders so they can hear each others’ views. He said he does not support increasing federal regulation over water.
“I think the navigable water standard is adequate, and I think what the DNR does here in the state is more than adequate in terms of protecting the environment here in the state of Wisconsin,” he said. “We don’t need to increase that regulatory burden, which is really becoming onerous in the United States.”
Wisconsin is one of at least nine states asking a federal court to strike down the new water rules, created by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Brad Schimel, the state’s attorney general, said in July that the water rule is an illegal expansion of the federal government’s power to regulate local streams, lands and farms.