[Madison, Wisc...] At a hearing on Wednesday, Representative Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) said if the Republican mining bill becomes law, the EPA will revoke the DNR's authority to administer the Clean Water Act in the state of Wisconsin.
"To have them completely rescind our authority over that is unlikely," Russ Rasmussen, Deputy Administrator for Division of Water told the MacIver News Service.
Hulsey went on to say the DNR is already in serious trouble with the EPA.
"They've already had 72 violations. This could be the nail in the coffin of our Clean Water Program," Hulsey said.
"There are actually 75, and they aren't violations," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen described them more as "discrepancies" between the Clean Water Act and how permits are issued in the state. He said this is not surprising since Wisconsin's program is over 30 years old, but the EPA just reviewed for the first time in 2011.
At Wednesday's hearing, Hulsey also said, "We are trying to ramroad [sic] through a bill that is the worst assault on Wisconsin health, drinking water and environmental protections, one of the worst in state history."
"[The bill] changes the applicability of [the standards]," Rasmussen said. "But it doesn't change the standards at all."
The DNR is not alone in this understanding of the bill. At the bill's public hearing on January 23rd, Representative Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), one of the bill's authors, stated, "both bills do not change any air quality emission limits. They do not change any ground quality standards. They do not change any safe drinking water standards. The bills do not change any effluent limitations."
That comment was immediately brought into question, and the Legislative Counsel stated, "All of the standards that Representative Suder mentioned are unchanged under the bill."
That declaration by Legislative Counsel seemed to have gone unnoticed by opponents of the bill. Two weeks later, on Monday, February 4th, Rep. Fred Clark (D-Sauk City) said, "The people of this state at the end of the day are still in support of clean water, and protecting our lakes and rivers and wetlands, and this bill has a long way to go before it gets to that standard."
Opponents on the mine recently have fixed much of their attention on wetlands, and claim the mine would displace or affect large areas of them.
Rasmussen also commented on what the law says about wetlands.
"You try to avoid them as much as possible. You try to avoid impacting them as much as possible, and you mitigate what you can't avoid," he said. "The bill is consistent with that."
The mining bills were passed out of committee on Wednesday, and are waiting scheduling for floor votes.