Wisconsin Witnesses Tell of Uncertainty, Costs Imposed by EPA’s Expansive New Rules

STEVENS POINT, Wis. —State and industry experts warned Friday that not only do two major new federal rules potentially impose devastating costs on Wisconsinites and represent a great expansion of government power but that the regulations are so vague, citizens cannot be clear what they will be prohibited from doing. 

The testimony came during a field hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Stevens Point on new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. The hearing was led by committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who lauded the great progress the nation has made in dramatically reducing pollution since the EPA was founded in 1970. The question now, Johnson said, is how much benefit is gained from still more stringent regulations and how much that benefit costs. 

The cost of two major new regulations could be huge. 

The Obama administration’s proposed lowered limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants are designed to end coal-fired power generation, said Delanie M. Breuer assistant deputy attorney general of Wisconsin. “The devastating impact of this cannot be overstated as it applies to Wisconsin manufacturing,” she said, noting that rather than reducing emissions, it will simply chase manufacturing to other countries, “where cheap, reliable coal energy is plentiful.”

“It will be detrimental, and it will be irreversible,” she testified. 

Lucas Vebber, who directs environmental policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, said that even though Wisconsin ratepayers already have invested billions of dollars in upgrading and cleaning the state’s power generating infrastructure, the rule would require huge additional reductions. “One thing we know with absolute certainty is that this rule will raise the cost of energy,” he said. 

Other witnesses spoke of the uncertainty imposed by the EPA’s redefinition of what land it can regulate under water regulations, the so-called “waters of the United States” rule. The rule imposes by agency decree what Congress specifically rejected in 2009. It potentially expands the EPA’s jurisdiction to as much as 92% of Wisconsin, covering not only navigable streams but even unconnected ponds, intermittent streams and places where runoff occurs. 

Jim Holte, president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, cited a field on his family’s farm in Dunn County. The field is about 80 feet above the elevation of his house, he said, but it will fall under EPA regulations because water runs across it after a heavy rain. 

The rule means farmers may need to get federal permission to continue to till or to spread manure on fields they long have used. Worse, he said, is that any reasonable exemptions regulators make now are not guaranteed. “In a tip of a pen, they could eliminate any exemptions we have,” he said. “And we would have no recourse.” 

Breuer testified that this vagueness was deliberate. The EPA is exploiting intentionally vague and obscure parts of the law to “mold the law to do what they want it to do.” The agency works with special interest groups, such as environmentalist organizations, that sue to bring about still stricter regulations than lawmakers were willing to pass, “which brings no value to the farmers and timberworkers of Wisconsin.” 

Also testifying were Henry Schienebeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, Bruce Ramme, environmental director for utility owner WEC Energy Group, and George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. 

Johnson noted that the EPA had been invited to testify but that the agency declined to send a representative. “It would have been nice to have them here,” he said. 

Witnesses’ submitted statements and a video record of the hearing are available here.