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Kedzie (click for larger version)
January 11, 2012 | 07:24 AM
As the new year begins, many of us take time to reflect on where we have been, and contemplate on where we may be headed. We make resolutions regarding our personal or professional lives in order to improve ourselves and the world around us. It is no different here in the Legislature, as we prepare for the final stretch of the 2011-12 legislative session.

Looking forward, several major items may soon advance as a continuation of our jobs and economy agenda.

As chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, I have had the opportunity to review various regulatory issues under current law which may be impeding economic growth in Wisconsin.

Regulatory reform is a key component to job creation, and at times, the bureaucracy of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) along with the various rules and regulations it administers can stifle job growth in the private sector.

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To address this long-standing issue, I have authored Senate Bill 326, which makes revisions for various DNR-issued permits to streamline the review process without jeopardizing environmental standards.

The bill authorizes the DNR to issue more simplified general permits for certain activities in a more expedited manner, and sets time frames for the department to act on permit applications. It also allows the DNR to utilize the speed and accessibility of the Internet in order to post notices of permit applications, and provide permit status updates via the Web so applicants have a better understanding of where they are in the process.

Many times, businesses and individuals who require approval from the DNR to move forward with a project simply want a yes or no answer. For years, many have complained of the amount of time it takes the DNR to issue such permits, or that they can not even get an answer one way or the other in a timely manner.

In the real world, time is money, and sometimes getting an answer declining a permit is better than getting no answer at all. Senate Bill 326 seeks to remedy this issue and provide certainty for both the regulators and the regulated.

Senate Bill 326 also makes changes to simplify Wisconsin pier regulations. In 2008, new regulations were enacted, but since that time, many pier owners have expressed frustration of the law, or questioned why a pier which has been in the water for decades needs to be regulated. Under the bill, any existing pier would be considered exempt from regulation, unless it infringes on the navigable rights of others.

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Any new pier placed after the effective date of the bill is also exempt, so long as the loading platform is no more than 200 square feet. The bill also eliminates a requirement that exempt piers be registered with the DNR, which many believed was just another form of unnecessary regulation.

Another significant reform proposal I have authored revises Wisconsin's Wetland Regulatory and Mitigation Program. This new bills seeks to change the manner in which activities and projects occurring in or near wetlands are reviewed, permitted, regulated, and mitigated.

The bill updates the wetland mitigation program in order to provide more flexibility for proposed projects, while at the same time, fosters more opportunities for the restoration and creation of high quality wetlands.

Wetland mitigation is a tool which may be used in order to offset any loss of wetlands, and may actually lead to more and better wetlands as a result. I believe this bill will create both economic and environmental benefits for Wisconsin by streamlining and simplifying the review process for the DNR, and requiring a 'net gain' for any proposed wetland mitigation project. It is my hope this new proposal will be a win-win for Wisconsin's environment and economy.

Finally, an effort is underway to revise Wisconsin's current mining laws, as a proposed mining project in northern Wisconsin has generated a great deal of discussion of its potential economic and environmental impacts. As chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Mining Jobs, I am reviewing the state mining laws and discussing the issue with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. New mining legislation has been introduced in the Assembly, and lawmakers and the public are reviewing and debating the merits of that bill. The challenge and goal is to find a balance between economic and environmental concerns raised, and create an appropriate standard of review of any such project proposed in Wisconsin.

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As the Legislature heads into its final months of the 2011-12 session, these three issues are certain to be high on the Legislature's to-do list, and a key focus of mine. Being intimately involved in all three, I have resolved to offer due diligence on each, and hopefully advance sound public policy to the benefit of both the economy and environment, and keep Wisconsin moving forward in the new year.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or on-line at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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