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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
The state Assembly will likely vote to pass a bill to remove protections for wetlands, marking a win for GOP lawmakers in the continued battle between conservationists and business interests.

The state Assembly will likely vote to pass a bill to remove protections for wetlands, marking a win for GOP lawmakers in the continued battle between conservationists and business interests.

Wetlands protections nixed under GOP bill; critics say it would damage environment

The state Assembly will likely vote to pass a bill to remove protections for wetlands, marking a win for GOP lawmakers in the continued battle between conservationists and business interests.

The bill, written by Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, allows private infrastructure to be built on top of wetlands without obtaining a permit or helping to restore other wetlands, which were previous requirements managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Republican proponents feel that these regulations hindered the potential of areas of Wisconsin that are lagging behind in terms of economic growth.

"This bill is absolutely critical for rural areas that are struggling to develop with their limited resources," said state Rep. Romaine Quinn, R-Barron, in a statement.

In a bipartisan vote in 2001, Wisconsin became the first state in the U.S. to approve protective legislation for wetlands, due to their naturally effective ability to reduce nitrates in water and control flooding. Wetlands are identified as potholes, woodland depressions, shallow marshes and meadows that are isolated bodies of water that fill from rain or snow throughout the year.

Because of their relatively small size and dispersed locations, wetlands have previously impacted where developers can build in otherwise low-density areas of Wisconsin. For this reason, Howard Kamerer, president of WOW Logistics, an Appleton-area company, claims that the new bill will help environmental causes by limiting urban sprawl.

“What we do is build that new industrial park right in the middle of someone’s farmland and pay them the money so we don’t have to deal with the DNR and we don’t have to deal with the regulatory burden,” Kramer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

However, the DNR has said that removing the wetland protection policies will put one million out of 5.3 million acres of wetlands in danger of pollution.

Previously, developers had to create 1.2 acres of wetlands for each acre filled in order to mitigate the environmental damage. The new legislation authorizes developers to fill up to one acre of urban wetlands and up to three acres of wetlands in rural farming areas. According to the bill, an urban area can have a population as little as one hundred people.

State Democrats and environmental groups have expressed extreme disapproval of the bill, but the GOP-controlled Assembly Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform voted 6-3 to pass it last week.

"Once these wetlands are paved over, there's no going back," said Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, in a statement. "I hope we all take a deep breath and understand these implications."

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