By Tammy Baldwin
In the 40 years since the bipartisan Clean Air Act became law, toxic pollutants, including lead and mercury, in our lakes, streams and air have been greatly reduced. Even with more stringent oversight of manufacturing, the nation's Gross Domestic Product has grown more than 200% and jobs in new clean technology industries are emerging every day.
Later this year, following a court order, the Environmental Protection Agency will update standards that further reduce hazardous air pollutants from large commercial and industrial boilers. Under the new rule, as proposed, businesses will be given three to four years to comply, and compliance could prove costly.
In Wisconsin, there are roughly 70 boilers affected by the rule, many in the paper and pulp industry, which has taken a beating in recent years, in part because of China's unfair trade practices. As I've worked on measures to combat China's cheating, I have met with or heard from many of these paper manufacturers, and not a single one wants to weaken the public health standards in the EPA's rule. What they do ask for, not unreasonably, is more time to comply.
There are arguments for and against the new standards that oversimplify and, I believe, misrepresent the issue by reducing it to a case of "environmentalists vs. business." To me, that is a false premise. Certainly, it is not the Wisconsin way.
It is simply wrong to propose that one who treasures our state's natural resources and seeks to protect them is not supportive of strengthening our economy and creating jobs. It is equally wrong to suggest that a large manufacturer seeking to create jobs and increase business is indifferent to our children's health or the cleanliness of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
I firmly believe it is possible to protect public health, preserve Wisconsin's natural resources and give businesses the certainty they need to plan for future growth. There is room for compromise - a middle ground that keeps jobs in the state while protecting public health.
Heeding the concerns of Wisconsin's paper manufacturers, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and I met with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in April. We made a strong case for Wisconsin manufacturers and urged the administrator to allow more time to implement the new standards. We pressed for an additional year for those companies working diligently toward compliance who need the extra time - five years rather than four.
This reasonable compromise would maintain strong public health standards, reduce toxic pollution and give Wisconsin businesses the time they need to do what's best for their employees and our communities. Additionally, Sen. Kohl and I continue to look for ways to reduce the costs associated with these rules while maintaining the public health benefits that we all wish to see.
Our state and our nation face many, many challenges, and too often we have seen lines drawn in the sand that serve no constructive purpose. Cooperation and compromise are essential for us to protect what we value and continue to progress. That is the path to prosperity. That is the Wisconsin way.