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Issue Position: Wetlands and Jobs: Do We Have to Choose One?

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"Very unhappy to see you continuing to vote against the expansion of industry," wrote the Trempealeau County man. "More industries, more jobs, people pay more taxes. This is a good scenario, right?"

Recently the Senate voted, on partisan lines, to approve a rewrite of laws governing wetlands. The bill's proponents included the state's largest business lobbying group. They wrote legislators, "enactment of this legislation will help economic development and job creation projects move forward…this bill is a win-win for jobs and the environment."

The striking division between environmental and large business groups was reflected in the bill's partisan vote. Most conservation groups and all the environmental groups lined up on one side and business groups from the oil industry, builders, manufacturers and ag-industry lined up on the other side.

At issue was how to streamline the permitting process for wetland development. Streamlining regulation is a good idea. Government should provide prompt service to citizens. Delays and tangled red tape hurts us all. There is no question the process of wetland review needed improvement.

The question is how to strike a balance between protecting the environment and encouraging job growth. Unfortunately many saw the bill passed by the Senate as out-of-balance.

The Wildlife Federation wrote, "This bill will result in the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands, which are important fish and wildlife habitat for hunters, anglers and trappers. Mitigated wetlands are usually far poorer quality than natural wetlands."

The idea of "mitigated' or off-set wetlands isn't new. For many years the policy of balancing development with natural resource protection was to "avoid, minimize and mitigate."

This strategy translates to first looking at alternative to building in a wetland; second minimizing the disturbance of a wetland and finally creating a "man-made' wetland to off-set the wetland consumed by development.

The bill passed by the Senate changes this plan.

In its place would be a new system allowing a developer who wants to build on a wetland to pay into a "mitigation bank'. This money would be used to buy land at another location to create artificial wetlands.

The Sierra Club warned, "This allows the permit process to degenerate to the level of a "lets make a deal' free-for-all."

The Wetlands Association wrote, "The stated objective of the bill is to create more and better wetlands. This is difficult to do if we allow the highest quality wetlands to be filled in." They advocated for the protection of "high quality, rare or imperiled wetlands".

Instead the bill changed the definition of wetlands making no wetland in Wisconsin safe from development.

Many people wrote concerned about this bill. John from Rock Elm wrote, "What happened to preserving our wildlife. While moving these wetlands to a different part of the state, are they going to move all the living animals and creatures as well?"

"Tourism is big and Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful landscape I've seen, so why are we destroying what brings people to Wisconsin," he wrote.

In a rush to address the difficult problem of a stagnant economy, some of my Legislative colleagues put a high priority on dismantling environmental protections. We see this in the wetlands bill and in the complete rewrite of iron ore mining bill.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are learning that crossing the wishes of large business groups comes at a cost. Threats come not only in letters and emails but in advertising, automated calls to constituents and threats of recall by industry related groups.

Lost in the power plays is a respectful debate of our differences.

By creating a "winner take all' attitude toward politics and policy, the common good is trampled.

Jobs and the environment aren't mutually exclusive. Lawmakers must balance the interests of landowners and developers with protection of our natural resources.

Such policy development requires thoughtful and prudent deliberation. The process can't be rushed and must be transparent. Lawmakers must be willing to say "no' to their friends and act in the public's interest.

People must not fall prey to advertising, automated calls and misinformation paid for by outside interests who will make substantial financial gains in the passage of certain new laws.


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