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The strength of jobs and a clean environment combined
Changes already underway | Cooperative work with other agencies
As the U.S. economy shows signs of slowly pulling out of a sustained four-year sag, Wisconsin businesses and communities naturally want to be poised in a good position to recover. We want quality jobs for our skilled workers, educated children who can adapt to a changing job market, and a wholesome place where families and communities continue to prosper. Making it easier for companies to do business in Wisconsin can help create new jobs that will sustain our economy.
We also need to attract new kinds of businesses. The hard-working people of Wisconsin are accustomed to a homegrown economy based on the resources we either had or could raise as crops. Lead mining and timber production succeeded by extracting natural resources and exporting them. Papermaking and agriculture showed we could sustain trees, water, and soil and still produce quality products. Unfortunately the global marketing of paper and farming commodities wrested away our ability to control the price of the commodities we raise.
Manufacturing demonstrated other ways to succeed. We did not need to produce all the raw materials for products as long as we knew how to use them. Skilled labor in southeastern Wisconsin became famous for its foundries and machinists who still make most of the country's small engines. Our success as a tourism (a $12 billion industry in our state in 2002) destination shows we adapt and develop skills to strengthen job opportunities in a service economy. Building a more diverse base of service and technology jobs remains an important challenge. In the interim, making it easier for our existing businesses to stay in business and grow has the front-and-center attention of the governor, lawmakers, regulators, municipal officials and business groups.
Among the mixture of tactics aimed at economic development and employment incentives, legislators are vigorously developing proposals to streamline government regulations. And environmental and sporting interests have been just as vigorous in voicing that Wisconsin need not roll back environmental protection in the name of economic progress.
"It's always worth examining ways to do work more efficiently," says DNR Secretary Scott Hassett. "We will continue looking for ways to improve regulations and we'll seek those legislative fixes that can make it easier to do business without harming the environment. Clean water, clean air, quality spaces and a healthy quality of life will continue to be our greatest strength in attracting businesses. We can improve how we enforce regulations without harming our environment. That can and must be our benchmark for successful change."
The strength of jobs and a clean environment combined
"Regulatory reform doesn't have to become a tired debate over economic growth vs. environmental protection," said John Imes of Wisconsin Environmental Initiative. We need not ignite another 'green war' that will hurt our ability to achieve both the healthy business climate and environmental quality every Wisconsinite deserves."
The governor's Grow Wisconsin Initiative continues that theme setting a direction to keep environmental standards high and protect quality of life while still fostering a competitive business climate. We can invest in people and make government responsive without sacrificing shared values, Gov. Doyle stated. Several of the mainstays of our economy – forest products, tourism and agriculture – depend on clean water, he noted.
Several studies bolster that notion. For a decade or more, The Green and Gold Report from the Institute for Southern Studies has ranked states on their environmental and economic standings. Wisconsin ranked 12th and 11th respectively in the latest report. The report concluded: "The states that do the most to protect their natural resources also wind up with the strongest economies and the best jobs for their citizens."
A recent White House Report from the Office of Budget and Management studied the costs of regulations and economic benefits. Over a 10-year period regulations cost $37-43 billion to develop yearly, but these laws created $147-231 billion in annual benefits. The Corporation for Enterprise Development, which has issued a report card on economic activity for the past 17 years, gave Wisconsin an "A" rating for performance, which measures aspects of quality of life here, but we have ranked very poorly for having little "entreprenurial energy" to raise venture capital and create new companies.
Jon Udell's 2001 study of The Quality of Business Life for the UW-Madison School of business gauged business executives' perceptions about living here and conducting business in the Badger State. It showed that a quality labor force, worker attitudes, stability and quality of life in the region are all much more important factors in attracting and keeping businesses than any issues relating to governmental regulations.
Changes already underway
New business incentives are important, Hassett said, but we're not waiting for new laws to start improving government services. He pointed to many efforts under way at the Department of Natural Resources and successful partnerships that are proving to be good for business and the economy.
Improved regulations for new sources of air pollution
Reducing permit review time
Fastest reviews in the region
Timely public water protection permits
Shoreland zoning rules being updated
Similar efforts are underway to update and improve other waterfront standards for piers, structures and land grading along waterways.
Permit primer for small businesses
Federal award for excellence in waste permitting program
Burning alternate fuels
Voluntary registry for reducing greenhouse gases
School bus retrofits
Quick review of proposed large livestock operations
Recognizing environmental leadership
Similarly scrap dealers can earn awards for annual inspections to contain waste oil, gasoline, solvents, prohibit open burning, remove refrigerants from auto air conditioners and conducting annual environmental audits. More than half of Wisconsin's scrap dealers and auto dismantling yards have joined this program.
Pollution prevention among papermakers
Safe sludge spreading
Currently more than 98 percent of Wisconsin communities operating wastewater treatment plants have found beneficial uses for these nutrient-rich sludges. Sludges from food processors including vegetable canners can also be spread or sprayed as soil conditioners. Potato processors, dairies and meat processors also have active programs with community farmers to landspread and incorporate organic wastes to build up soil. Paper mills also landspread sludges for fertilizers and soil conditioners. Sludge spreading is a win-win program that saves millions of dollars in disposal costs at approximately 30,000 approved sites in Wisconsin.
Cooperative environmental assistance
The EMS idea is slowly growing. Two years ago only a handful of Wisconsin companies had formal environmental management systems. Now 80 firms have them in place. As the number of firms increases and their performance shows the businesses can consistently meet environmental requirements, then the nature of overseeing environmental compliance changes.
Cooperative work with other agencies
Complex business proposals often involve judgments from several state agencies. Streamlining those interagency decisions can also save business substantial time and expense. The Department of Natural Resources has signed Memorandums of Understanding with three key state agencies – the Department of Transportation; the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection; and the Public Service Commission (PSC) to cut delays and coordinate as business permits are considered and reviewed.
For instance, the agreement with the PSC now sets the process for reviewing proposed expansions and siting of power plants and power transmission lines.
Utility companies apply to both the PSC and DNR for permits to build and operate power plants. Historically, the two agencies cooperated on the environmental analysis, but there was no formal process to coordinate the permit reviews. The PSC assessed the need for new plants, the service areas and locations. DNR typically reviewed wetland and waterway permits in addition to assessing proposed air emissions, and plans for managing wastewater and solid wastes. Sometimes PSC would determine that the best site for a new power plant or an expansion was on land that was not permissible under environmental laws. This forced applicants to go back to PSC seeking modifications to plans before construction even began. Since September 2003, DNR and PSC agreements coordinate their environmental reviews on the same time schedule. The agreement also sets a state policy on transmission lines to include the possibility of using recreational corridors in certain circumstances.
"We are looking for areas where we can trim review times and duplication," says DNR's Hassett. "Yet we're still vigilant about maintaining environmental protections. It's vital to create jobs here and to be prepared to act when job opportunities are available. Those opportunities can be quickly explored without sacrificing natural resources, which are just as important to our quality of life. Quality resources, both natural and human, are the economic fabric and base of our state economy."
David L. Sperling edits Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.