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Environmental Groups Question GOP Water-Pollution Credit Bill

LRB-1244 authorizes a market-based framework to facilitate more water-quality trades in Wisconsin. (Greyerbaby/Pixabay)
LRB-1244 authorizes a market-based framework to facilitate more water-quality trades in Wisconsin. (Greyerbaby/Pixabay)
February 28, 2019

MADISON, Wis. – A bill introduced this week by Republican legislators that would create a clearinghouse between fixed-source polluters and water-pollution credit generators in Wisconsin is drawing questions from some environmental groups.

The bill introduced Tuesday would streamline the state's water-pollution credit-trading system. LRB-1244 would create a clearinghouse that would enter into contracts with credit generators and assume liability for the viability of their credits.

Some environmental groups insist they want more specifics on how it would work. Bill Davis, director of Wisconsin's John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club, thinks so far, the way the bill is worded is too vague.

"The language in there that seems to me read one way would allow trades to happen anywhere on the Wisconsin River, which to me is too big a stretch," Davis observed. "So, in other words, the increased discharge in one place is not going to see the benefit of the decrease in other places."

The bill's supporters, which include some environmental groups, have said the new system also could provide a source of revenue for farmers and improve water quality.

Gov. Tony Evers has declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water.

Davis said he'd like to support the idea. But for now, he wants to see if there will be safeguards in place for heavy polluters who might just opt for trading credits instead of curbing their polluting practices, or making sure heavy polluters aren't concentrated in one area.

"For example, if you get two or three people who are increasing their discharge, and they're very close to each other – and the people who are decreasing their discharge are in other places – we want to make sure there are no negative impacts in that water body, near those increased changes," Davis explained.

Wisconsin law currently divides polluters into two classes: so-called point sources, such as municipal sewage treatment plants that discharge pollutants directly into the environment, and nonpoint sources, such as farms that pollute through runoff.

In 2010, the Department of Natural Resources imposed tougher phosphorus restrictions on point-source polluters.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - WI